In September 2004, more than thirty heavily-armed terrorists carried out an attack on a school in Beslan, North Ossetia. For over fifty hours they held more than 1,000 people captive, the majority of them children. Following explosions, fire and an armed intervention, over 330 people – including more than 180 children - lost their lives and over 750 people were injured.
It later emerged that local authorities had enough information to know that there would be a terrorist attack against an educational institution on or around the day in question. However, they did not try to intercept the terrorists, increase security at the school or warn the public.
The authorities’ response to the incident suffered from a lack of formal leadership, resulting in serious flaws in decision-making and coordination. In the absence of proper rules governing how the security forces should engage with the terrorists, indiscriminate weapons had been used on the buildings where hostages were still being held. Those weapons included flame-throwers, grenade launchers and a tank cannon, which contributed to the heavy causalities among the hostages.
409 victims or family members brought their case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that there had been numerous failings by the Russian authorities in relation to the attack. Many wanted to obtain the truth about the incident and lessons to be learnt to avoid future tragedies.