In 2004, nearly nine years ago, at the beginning of the school year, an incident took place of such murderous hatred that its happening serves as the defining dimension of the nature of the separatist insurgency and violence that have shaken Chechnya since Muslim rebels have been agitating for independence for their predominantly Muslim republic in the wake of the Soviet Union' 1991 collapse.
The crisis, since referred to as the Beslan School Hostage Crisis or the Beslan Massacre began in September 2004, involved the capture of 1,100 people as hostages, including 777 children, by armed Islamist militant separatists, mostly Ingush and Chechen who occupied School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia -- an autonomous republic in the North Caucasus region of the Russian Federation. The hostage takers were the Riyadus-Salikhin Battalion sent by the Chechen separatist warlord Shamil Basyyev, who had demanded recognition of the independence of Chechnya at the UN and Russian withdrawal from Chechnya.
The crisis lasted three days until they were overrun by Russian security forces. At least 334 people were killed during the crisis including 186 children. Yet the dimension of cruelty of the occupiers shook the world. The hostage takers prevented their children hostages from eating or drinking in the sweltering heat and randomly shot to death a number of their teachers or fathers who had come to accompany them to school. The attackers mined the gym and the rest of the school building and surrounded it with trip wires. They threatened to kill 50 hostages for every one of their own members killed by the police, and to kill 20 hostages for every gunman injured. The dimensions of the horror shook the world at the time.
Shortly after the crisis, official Russian sources stated that the attackers were part of a supposed international group led by Basayev that included a number of Arabs with connections to al-Qaeda, and claimed they picked up phone calls in Arabic from the Beslan school to Saudi Arabia and another undisclosed Middle Eastern country.
Among the Chechens themselves there was profound penance. Once they understood that there were large numbers of children killed by a group that included Chechens, the Chechens were struck with a large amount of shame. One spokesman for the Chechen independence cause stated, "Such a bigger blow could not be dealt upon us... People around the world will think that Chechens are monsters if they could attack children."
And yet, with profound sadness, one now must add to this shameful mindset, the willingness to bring death and mayhem to a peaceable gathering of sportsmen, sportswomen and spectators including, once again, children, all at the Boston Marathon and environs.
Follow Raymond J. Learsy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/raymondLearsy