On December 14th, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School in the Village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Connecticut was the site of a mass murder which shook this nation. The offender walked into the elementary school and fatally shot twenty children and six adults. The offender, Adam Lanza had shocked the United States by his actions and by the end of the investigation of this event authorities found out that Lanza had killed his mother before the mass murder and committed suicide before authorities could catch him (Wikimedia Foundation). Another case of random school violence occurred in 2007 on the campus of Virginia Tech. In that case “Twenty-three year old Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, before taking his own life” (CNN Library) Schools are not the only locations of large scale events of mass violence, for example during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado in 2012. In that case gunman James Homes shot 70 people and plead “not guilty by reason of insanity" (Swaine).
These events have called into question the safety of public schools and other public locations and the potential that these institutions may become the target of insurgent groups. However, as startling as these events are to the United States, Russia has also been the site of insurgent violence directed at educational institution.
This intelligence analysis will focus on events that took place in September of 2004 in Russia and have become known as the Beslen School Siege or Beslen School Hostage Crisis. “The tragic events in which Chechen nationalists held hostage over 1,000 men, women and children, killing 332 of them during a bloody three-day siege in September of 2004 has been called 'Russia's 9-11'.” (Milic) Unlike the events that have occurred in the United States, which perpetrated by what appeared to be lone wolf terrorists acting out a personal vendetta, the events in Russia were perpetrated by an organized insurgent group. “The siege lasted 53 hours, and ended in a chaotic gunfight between Russian military, local men, and the guerrillas who had infiltrated the school. As the dust settled, the hostages' chilling stories emerged, as well as details of the separatists' preparations, which included planting extra weapons in the school over the summer.” (Milic) Throughout all of these events there is a single common focus on the vulnerable population of children and unsuspected victims. These incidents also had poorly organized law enforcement response that ended all of these incidents.
There are several reasons that a vulnerable aspect of a population become the target of terrorism, this is because “the point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.” (Schneier) Another aspect of terrorism is to promote fear, the fear that our children can become the target of terrorist actions at anytime, anywhere. This fear will, in theory, prevent a population from living normally without the fear of terrorist violence.
Another important point to take into consideration with all of these events is the fact that the terrorists in all of these cases are that they were perpetrated by home grown terrorists.
The Beslen School Crisis was perpetrated by a group of Chechen separatists that were/are seeking an independent homeland for Chechnya (or freedom from domination by the Russian government). The events at Beslen began “just after 9 a.m. Wednesday when the guerrillas blasted their way into the building at the end of the opening-day assembly. Though Russian officials never confirmed it publicly, the hostage takers demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and the release of prisoners taken after a guerrilla raid this summer in the neighboring region of Ingushetia. They also demonstrated their seriousness by mining the school with explosives and threatening to blow it up if Russian forces moved in on them.” (Baker and Glasser)
Unlike the individuals responsible for school violence in the United States, the violence that occurred at School Number 1 in Beslen was perpetrated by an organized group of insurgents and/or Chechen Jihadists. “The conflict in Chechnya is one of secession and not Islamic fundamentalism. The objective of the resistance is the creation of an independent Chechnya and not a fight against the West. Foreign Jihadists first arrived in Chechnya during the first Chechen war in 1994. They had previous fighting experience from the Jihadi arenas of Afghanistan and Bosnia. The Chechen arena provided the foundation for Wahabist influence in the Caucuses. In 1999 the second Chechen war began. The reason for the Russian invasion was ostensibly to fight terrorism and the Jihadist rebels. The true reasons are thought to be the prevention of Chechen secessionism, to avenge the previous Chechen victory and to maintain Russia's geo-political influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. The current leader of Chechnya is Ramzan Kadyrov. There are allegations of violent human rights abuses under Kadyrov's rule” (Scher) It is believed that the Beslen school crisis was retribution for a 2002 “siege of the Dubrovka Theater in Moscow (which led to the deaths of 129 hostages and 42 terrorists)” (Bodansky 2009).
From a domestic security point of view, it is interesting to note that the Boston Marathon Bombing of April 2013 was also perpetrated by individuals that are connected to the Chechen Jihad. It is also important to understand that this region of Central Europe has become a hotbed of Jihadi violence and appears that it will continue to remain so for the foreseeable future. This is allowing young men and women of European descent to be trained at Jihadi training camps in Europe to eventually perpetrate insurgent violence throughout Europe and the United States. All of this violence is ethnically motivated.
These recent events need to be examined through the lens of history, by that I mean the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union allowed for regions that has spent decades under the control of the Soviet Union were now free to engage in ethnic violence in an attempt to assert power and dominance in mainland Europe. It is also necessary to remember that large parts of mainland Europe were predominantly Muslim until the end of World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. The regions that we will be discussing throughout this intelligence analysis are in a region of Europe known as the Caucuses/Balkans this region is neither Christian nor Muslim, European nor Arab. It is a region disputed by several factions. “With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Jihadists resolved to pursue three historic axes of advance into lands within reach of the Hub of Islam, lands that have been claimed by Islam since its ascent: the Caucasus (the historic avenue into the heart of Russia and Eastern Europe), the Balkans (the historic road to Western Europe), and Kashmir (the entrée into the Indian subcontinent).” (Bodansky 2009, p. 1). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. Lacking the cohesion of the Soviet Union this region was allowed to attempt to express independence and also allowed for Arab Jihadists a new venue from which to wage Jihad against the West.
Immediately after the end of the Cold War political Scientist Samuel P. Huntington theorized that “the fundamental source of conflict in this new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” (Huntington 1993) Events in the Balkans/Chechnya have proven this theory to be true.
Without the overwhelming influence of the Soviet Union differing ethnic groups have been able to wage war in an attempt to gain independence and/or to express ethnic individuality and more importantly have given the political Islamic movement a foothold in Europe so as to perpetrate insurgent attacks against targets in Europe and attempt to destabilize the safety and economic security of Europe. “Critical, in these years, was Russia’s role in combating Islamist terrorism on the Caucasus jihadist front, in a drawn-out conflict commonly referred to as the “war in Chechnya.”
For the Russians, the importance of containing the Jihad in the Caucasus went beyond their desire to control this small republic, with a population of slightly over a million and a land mass smaller than the state of Vermont. The rebellion in Chechnya may have begun as an indigenous nationalist movement, but it was soon co-opted by the international Islamist movement as an element of its global jihad. By the turn of the twenty-first century, the jihadists were well on their way to transforming the Caucasus into a springboard for strikes into Russia and Europe, and a site of sociopolitical transformation that threatened to affect the entire Hub of Islam and beyond.” (Bodansky 2009, p. 2) Chechen Jihad has become the new rallying cry for the political Islamic movement with regard to spreading a fundamental form of Islam across the globe. It should be noted at this point that Europe will demonstrate a unique potential for trained Jihadists as this new breed of insurgent will have been raised with a complete understanding of the West and Western culture and therefore will prove to be a more skilled enemy that has been faced in the past or those with a limited understanding of western culture.
Ethnic violence in Chechnya has been described as “Chechenization refers to the profound transformation of a predominantly Muslim society from its traditional, largely pre-Islamic structure to one dominated by Islamist-Jihadist elements that historically have been alien to that society. Chechenization involves not only the Arabization of that society’s value system, social structure, and way of life, but a near-complete abandonment of a society’s own cultural heritage in favor of subservience to pan-Islamic jihadist causes, even if those causes are detrimental to the self-interest of that society.” (Bodansky 2009, pp. 2-3) Or the attempt to spread political Islam across Europe.
This information leads into the question of the Siege of School Number 1 by a group of Chechen separatists. The idea behind terrorism is to promote terror and one method that can be used to promote said terrorism is to attack the most vulnerable segment of a population, children, schools are meant to be institutions of education, not armed camps and are therefore unprepared to defend against any sort of insurgent attack.
A school was chosen for this insurgent action simply for shock value. It is my belief that the insurgents believed that their demands would be met when children were in danger. However, the traditional notion of no negotiation with terrorists backfired in this case as the military has no safe method to enter the school without causing harm and without any intelligence regarding the number and types of arms carried by the insurgents it was not possible to devise a good plan to end the standoff. Also, it would appear that this standoff was planned months in advance with additional weapons being stored in the school over the summer for use during the planned siege.
Baker, Peter, and Susan B. Glasser. "Russia School Siege Ends in Carnage: Hundreds Die As Troops Battle Hostage Takers." Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A58381-2004Sep3.html (accessed December 27, 2013).
Bodansky, Yossef (2009-10-13). Chechen Jihad. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
CNN Library. "Virginia Tech Shootings Fast Facts." CNN. http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/31/us/virginia-tech-shootings-fast-facts/ (accessed December 27, 2013).
Huntington, Samuel P. "Clash Of Civilizations?." foreign affairs 72, no. 33 (1993): 22-49. http://www.polsci.wvu.edu/faculty/hauser/PS103/Readings/HuntingtonClashOfCivilizationsForAffSummer93.pdf (accessed December 27, 2013).
Milic, Corina . "Beslan school hostage crisis." - Worst terrorist attacks in history. http://news.ca.msn.com/9-11-anniversary/worst-terrorist-attacks-in-history?page=3 (accessed December 27, 2013).
Wikimedia Foundation. "Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandy_Hook_Elementary_School_shooting (accessed December 25, 2013).
Scher, Gideon . "ICT - Articles > Chechen Jihad: An Analytical Overview." ICT - Articles > Chechen Jihad: An Analytical Overview. http://www.ict.org.il/Articles/tabid/66/Articlsid/743/currentpage/10/Default.aspx (accessed December 27, 2013).
Schneier, Bruce . "Schneier on Security." Blog. https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2006/08/what_the_terror.html (accessed December 27, 2013).
Swaine, Jon. "Batman shooter James Holmes seeks insanity plea." The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10054613/Batman-shooter-James-Holmes-seeks-insanity-plea.html (accessed December 27, 2013).