Date: 10/11/2004


Terrorism reaches new depths at Beslan - A comprehensive discussion Cohen: The significance is that the peoples of Russia are subjected to unspeakable atrocities, very much like 9/11 and other jihadi activities that are going on around the world, including in Israel, Kashmir, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and elsewhere. Terrorism, whichever its justifications and historic roots, has to be made outside the pale by the international community, just like human sacrifice, cannibalism, piracy and slavery. Otherwise, it will hit us again, and it will hit us hard. Jihadis in Iraq have "specific" demands. They want the US out, and they want Prime Minister Iyad Allawi dead. Al Qaeda has specific demands: they want the US out of the Middle East; they want U.S. to stop "polluting" the Muslim world with our "infidel" culture.

Unfortunately, those who try to "understand" or "explain" the atrocities committed by radical Chechens -- or Palestinians -- intentionally confuse or mislead, as to who are the perpetrators and who are the victims.

Those who are well aware of, but intentionally ignore, the jihadi dimesion of the radical Chechen wing are misleading the readers and the American public as to the true nature of this tragic conflict.

No question, the Russian government has made mistakes in Chechnya since 1994, and I will elaborate on these later. No questions peacful Chechens were abused by the Russian Army, but on September 1, the first day of school, it was a multi-ethnic group of over thirty radical Islamist terrorists, including two female suicide bombers and some Chechens, who took more than 1,000 children, teachers, and parents hostage in the North Ossetian town of Beslan in Russia.

The terrorists deployed explosives around the school, hanging them from basketball hoops in the gym, where most of children were kept. This was the fifth massive hostage-taking event in Russia since 1995, and it would end in tragedy. Shamil Basaev, leader of the radical terrorist Islamist wing of the Chechen separatist movement has taken responsibility for the massacre.

The terrorists subjected the children and other hostages to unspeakable abuses, denying them water and food, killing some at random, and forcing many children to drink urine. Europe has not seen such cruelty since the Nazi atrocities of World War Two. After two days, the terrorists triggered an explosion in the gym, and many children ran out. The terrorists opened fire, and many hostages were shot in the back and killed. Russian special forces and the armed local population attempted a rescue, but the death and destruction brought about that day spoke clearly to a a security failure of gigantic proportions.

Heart wrenching scenes of a bloodbath rescue; of small bodies buried in tiny coffins; of parents breaking down in grief at their children's graves, shocked the world. Many Russians watched the crisis on television, tears pouring down their cheeks. They repeated after their leaders, "It's a war. A war has been unleashed upon Russia."

Loftus: But who is behind the war? There is much speculation from Israel that Chechen terrorists are being trained by al Qaeda in Iran. The Russian intelligence services are certain that that the Taliban previously sold heavy weapons through the Saudis to help the Chechens. A number of the baby-killers of Beslyan were Arabs, not Chechens, and at least one is believed to be a Saudi.

Russia is and always has been a principal target of Islamic extremist groups. While Russia's behavior in Chechnya has often been abhorrent, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of the Chechen people want a truce, a cease fire, any kind of peace under any kind of terms, even if it means the end of their dreams of independence.

The Islamic extremists are horrified by this pacifistic trend. They intentionally chose baby killing to inspire a brute force reaction from Russia, hoping that more Russian brutality would drive more Chechens back into the arms of the nationalist extremists. Recruitment by incitement of genocide. The Russians know this and are holding back, at least until their young protégé turns 30 and can take over his late father's job as the ruler of what passes for a Chechen democratic government.

It is my view (and I think that of the majority of the intelligence community) that the baby killers never had any intention of negotiation. Indeed, when some of the insurgents first learned the target was a school, they attempted to protest and were executed. Two of the "black widows" bomb belts were exploded by remote control as an encouragement to the others. It is clear from the manner in which the hostages were treated that there never was any intention of letting any of the children out alive.

Look at the larger picture. The western oil companies want to build a pipeline through the Pankisis gorge, one of the most violent and terrorist-laden places on the planet. What is up with that? My take: the Chechen terrorists have been offered a share of profits to protect the pipeline, same with the Chechen democrats. Everyone in Chechnya wants a slice of the pie, and is willing to fight to the last Russian baby to get it.

Satter: In evaluating the Russian response to the Beslan hostage taking, there are two points that need to be kept in mind.

First, any country whose citizens have been taken hostage has an obligation to try to protect their lives. In the case of Beslan, where there were at least 1200 hostages, a large percentage of them children, this obligation was overwhelming. Nonetheless, the Russians refused negotiations - even to buy time - and thereby made the massacre that followed inevitable.

Second, the roots of the Chechen conflict lie in the Russian effort to crush the national aspirations of the Chechens unconditionally. As a result, the Russian refusal to negotiate in Beslan, although reflecting a desire not to reward terror, was not rooted in political or moral principle at the level of fundamental demands.

Saving the lives of the Beslan children was not a priority for the Russian government any more than saving the lives of the hostages in the Dubrovka Theater siege was a priority two years ago. This disregard for the lives of one's own people is barbaric and is not made less so by the unspeakable behavior of the hostage takers.

Cohen: If you negotiate with terrorists and answer their demands, there will be more terror and more demands. The terrorists in Beslan wanted all Russian troops out of Chechnya - that was one of their demands. They also wanted prisoners from the previous raid to the neighborign Ingushetia out of jail.

Think about it. If a school was taken over in Iraq -- or in neighobring Kuwait or Jordan, and the demand was to pull US troops from Iraq, what do you think our reaction would be? Would we just surrender to terrorist demands? What they want is to break our spirit, force us to do what they want. And you get what you reward. Surrender to terrorist demands will escalate terrorist attacks and make attacks on schools, like the PLO attack against a school in Maalot, Israel, in 1974, a legitimate tactic. However, negotiations to gain time, wear the terrorists out, and prepare an operation are legit. The Russians tried to do just that. They failed, as the terrorists started to dictate operational tempo by blowing up explosives in school. Hostages ran. Terrorists shot. At which point, the poorly trained Russian forces moved in, and armed locals were shooting at everyone. Bloody mess!

As for the broader picture, ethnic and religious unrest is endemic to the territory of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, as prolonged guerrilla warfare during 18th-20th centuries in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Western Ukraine, and Baltic states demonstrate. In particular, ethnically based warfare and insurgency are hardly new to the Caucasus – North or South – for the last two centuries.

President Putin has admitted that the first Chechen war, unleashed by the Yeltsin Administration in the fall of 1994, in which 80,000- 100,000 people were killed and over 100,000 became internally displaced, was an error. After the defeat of the Russian army in Chechnya, Moscow granted the rebel region quasi-independence in 1996. Sadly, "independent" Chechnya has turned into a disaster for its own people. Armed gangs and clans have the run of the house. Radical Sunni (Wahhabi/Salafi) clerics imported by Saudi Arabia have established Islamic religious courts (Sharia) in the society, which previously had practiced a rather lax version of Sufi Islam. Public hangings have become commonplace. Thousands have been kidnapped for ransom. Slave markets have appeared throughout this European borderland. Oil from pipelines is looted, pipelines sabotaged, transit trains from Russia strafed, passengers robbed, drugs trafficked, and arms smuggling and other contraband are rife.

The Wahhabi presence, including ties with Al Qaeda terrorists, has increased, strengthening the leadership of radical Islamists such as Shamil Basaev. Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's second in command, spent six months in Chechnya setting up training camps and preparing "jihad" – holy war. The Russian security services arrested Al Zawahiri, but having no idea of who he was, eventually let him go.

The Second War. The second Chechen war was started in 1999 with the invasion of the neighboring republic of Daghestan by a radical Chechen faction commanded by Shamil Basaev. Explosions in apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, in which over 300 people died, greatly contributed to escalation tensions. Basaev did not and does not hide his geopolitical ambitions of establishing an Islamist religious-military dictatorship, a Califate, from the Black Sea to the Caspian. Such an entity, with ties to Al Qaeda and extremist circles in the Middle East, would radically change the geopolitics of Russia and Europe.

To portray the conflict as that of the Chechen "good guys" and the Russian "bad guys" is unbelievable simplistic and misleading. The Russians have obviously made mistakes - in both wars. They were unjustifiably heavy handed. Their military and security forces are unreformed, and the leadership hasn't recognized that. Or if it did, it has no clue how to change things. Retired colonels and generals from the General Staff propose to scrap the whole system and start anew. And the Chechen fanatical adherence to demands for independence, and tolerance of, and willing participation in, Wahhabization, have cause the population of Chechnya to decline by 1/3 since the beginning of the war in 1994, with over 100,000 people killed and 200,000 emigrating to Russia and abroad. Most Chechens living in Moscow and elsewhere would tell you that this is an unmitigated disaster which could have been avoided if both sides showed some patience, realism, and common sense.

Loftus: I think Cohen is right. The Russians intended to negotiate, and acceded in Beslan to the hostage takers demand that the same paediatrician who was a trusted mediator in Moscow be brought to them. As I understand it, the negotiations were progressing successfully. The terrorists had agreed to allow some of the wounded hostages to be evacuated. At the same time as the vans arrived to carry some of the wounded kids out, a dispute arose among the terrorists themselves. Apparently, several were Chechen mercenaries who were appalled at the idea of child murder and rebelled.

According to the sole terrorist survivor, the "colonel" detonated several bombs prematurely as an internal show of force. This had the unintended consequence of blowing out some of the glass windows in the gym. The kids panicked and ran, prompting the terrorist sharpshooters on the roof to open up on the fleeing kids. The Spetznatz troops were caught off guard and charged, thus escalating the conflict.

Unless the Russians have completely fabricated this chain of events (unlikely given the number of witnesses), there was an ongoing peaceful negotiation in progress, all the Russian assault troops had been ordered to stand down, and the truce was only shattered by the terrorists quarrelling among themselves. If these are the facts, Satter is quite wrong to blame the Russian government, and Cohen is wrong to accuse them of a lack of patience. It is unreasonable to expect 19 year old Russian soldiers to stand by while little children are being shot down in front of their eyes.

The survivors themselves confirm that the terrorists stated their intent to kill them all. Events suggest that they meant what they said. Under these circumstances, negotiation might have a bought a little more time, but the body count would have remained the same.

A broken watch is right twice a day, and this time the Russians are right on Chechnya. Saudi Arabia funds the terrorists, and will continue to do so. Their Wahhabist cult (condemned as a heresy more than sixty times by mainstream Islam) is the ideological well spring for the justification of baby killing.

There are few options and no good solutions. Stalin once deported an entire ethnic group from the Caucasus region to Siberia. Now mass deportation of civilians is considered a crime against humanity. The traditional route, of setting one warlord against another, will only perpetuate the civil war and perhaps cause it to spill over the borders. Containment along the borders would require a massive number of troops, more than the Russians can afford.

The less drastic solution is to cut off the flow of money and arms to the terrorists. As Putin said to President Bush after 9/11, "if you want to wage a serious war on terrorism, we will join you, but that means taking down the source of terrorist funding, the Saudis." Bush blanched. One thing that the Americans and the Chechen terrorists have in common is a desire to ensure the continued flow of Saudi oil.

To the disgust of the Russians, it is clear the US and EU have concluded that they would rather have more oil for their SUV's, even at the price of the babies of Beslan. The most dangerous evil in the world is not communism, fascism or terrorism, it is indifference. The West continues to shrug while someone else's children are murdered. Soon, I fear, it will be our turn unless we wean ourselves off our addiction to oil. In war, some sacrifices have to be made. We can sacrifice our SUV's and live quite normally. Or do we continue to sacrifice children?

Russian oppression in Chechnya was not the cause of Islamic extremism, it was merely the place of its early appearance. It is a tragedy that the Saudis chose this sad and embattled region for their experiment in terror. Of course, Saudi intermeddling alone cannot explain what happened in Beslan. In the long run, the root cause of all insurrection is injustice, the cure for which is justice. The war on terrorism must be fought on all fronts, including civic reform. Cutting off funding to terrorists is only the first step in the long march toward Democracy and Freedom.

Let us take that step.

FP: Sorry, let me interrupt here for a moment. The "root cause of all insurrection is injustice"???

Mr. Loftus, I can't let that one slip by.

The ideology of militant Islam is a perfect delegitimization of this point. Read the writing of Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood's great theorist and the father of modern Islamic fundamentalism. In his work "Milestones," which serves as Islamism's Mein Kampf, he discusses the urgent need for Islamic insurrection, jihad, war etc.

And guess what the cause is of this need for insurrection? It's "injustice" alright. And guess what that "injustice" is in his eyes? It's the injustice of what is happening here right now in this symposium: freedom, free speech and every possible thing you can imagine is connected to it.

For Qutb and for all militant Muslims, injustice is to have to live sharing this earth with people like us -- kuffar (one of the Islamic terms used for unbelievers) and to be threatened by our jahiliyyah (basically everything and anything connected to earthly cheer, joy, sensual or physical pleasure, and everything and anything unconnected to the yearning for death and suicide – Islamism's top objective).

Qutb perfectly crystallized the urgency of militant Islam's insurrection against the free world: the necessity to extinguish human freedom in its every form. In his trip to America from 1948- 1950, Qutb grew in his hatred of America because of his revulsion of the reality that women were actually making many of their own decisions, that they were not covered up, that humans were making choices about love for their own personal needs, that individuals pursued their own desires and interests, that humans were actually dancing and having fun (Qutb's greatest outrage), and that, overall, people were free and enjoying entertainment and a good material life.

For Islamists, it is a great injustice to have to live next to such jahiliyyah and it must be wiped out, for it also threatens the Muslim world with its satanic temptation.

Mr. Loftus, you cannot offer the Sayyid Qutbs and Osma Bin Ladens of this world any kind of "justice" to quench their insurrection against the free world. The only kind of "justice" you can offer to do that is for every free person to submit to the despotic totality that Islamism, like its cousins communism and fascism, demands. Every form of free will must be abandoned. Cherishing all the joys of this earth and treasuring our lives here must be discarded, all for the sake of submitting to totality and then idolizing mass murder and suicide.

To try to fully "understand" why the Chechen terrorists did what they did is to suggest that evil is rational and can be eliminated if appeased. It ignores the reality that the 20th century taught us so tragically and violently: that irrational mass movements exist that yearn for mass murder and suicide for absolutely no logical or explainable reason at all. And all we can really do to eliminate them, as we did with Hitler and eventually the Soviet regime, is to fight them and destroy them.

In any case, we are running out of time.

Each panelist has one comment left.

Mr. Satter, feel free to comment on anything that has been said and also please include a note on a potential solution to Russia's Palestine, if there is one.

Satter: I'm puzzled by Ariel Cohen's version of events in Beslan. He states that the Russians engaged in negotiations to gain time and wear the terrorists out. But, in fact, there were no negotiations. The three persons requested by the terrorists as negotiators, the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetiya and pediatrician Leonid Roshal never made it to the terrorists. This was believed to be the result of an order from Moscow. The only politician who entered the besieged school was Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetiya and a strong critic of the war in Chechnya, who acted on his own. He left with a videocassette for Putin and 26 hostages.

From the testimony of the hostages freed during the subsequent storm of the building, it is also obvious that the Russian authorities had no intention of entering into negotiations. According to the hostages, the terrorists could not call through to a single high ranking official in North Ossetia. The officials simply refused to come to the phone, although the children of several of them were in the besieged school.

At the same time, an offer by Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov to the Russian authorities to negotiate with the hostage takers in return for a guarantee of safe conduct was ignored.

John Loftus also seems to think that the Russian authorities were interested in negotiations, that negotiations took place and that they were "progressing successfully." Unfortunately, the only evidence supporting this claim appears to be Rochal's conversations by telephone with the terrorists' "press secretary."

The confusion over whether the Russians did or did not negotiate points to an intuitive realization that only negotiations could have saved the children of School number 1. As distasteful as it may be to negotiate with hostage takers, in many cases this is the only way to avoid a massacre. We therefore do Russia no favor by uncritically applauding the Putin regime's readiness to put the emphasis in hostage taking situations entirely on the destruction of terrorists. This is all the more true when the cause being defended is as dubious as the Russian war in Chechnya.

It has been pointed out many times that there is a way out of the Chechen situation. Chechen demands are, in fact, very moderate. The peace plans that exist call only for wide ranging autonomy within the Russian Federation. What is needed is for the regime to realize that it cannot dictate to the Chechens but needs to negotiate. In other words, the regime must adopt the same flexibility in seeking a political settlement that it should have shown in dealing with the terrorists in Beslan. The alternative is unending bloodshed inside Russia and, possibly, a new and dangerous role for Chechens in the plans of international terrorism.

Cohen: First, Chechnya is not Russia's Palestine. Israel has a historic and religious claim to the land of Israel which Russia lacks in Chechnya. The Jews, if you wish, are the Chechens of that land - the original dwellers, and the Palestinians are the later invaders. The Jews also had an uniterrupted presence in the land of Israel, a majority in Jerusalem, and the right to the land due to new settlement, which started in 1882. Finally, the creation of the state of Israel was voted on by the majority of the UN General Assembly in 1948, whereas no such international recognition was allowed to Chechnya one way or the other (neither to Russia's claim, nor to the Chechen indepdendence). So let's not confuse the two.

Second, the Russians need to get their counter-terrorism tradecraft straight. It was a pitiful sight to watch how they bungled the crisis. The systemic failures of policy and security apparatus that failed to stop the atrocities in Beslan were immediately obvious for Russian and Western observers. The Russian intelligence networks, run by the military, internal security forces (FSB), and the Interior Ministry police in the North Caucasus had failed to identify preparations for the attack or provide timely intelligence to intercept the hostage takers en route, before they entered the school. Similarly, a few days prior to Beslan, two female suicide bombers destroyed two Russian airliners and blew up a Moscow metro station and a bus stop.

The failure of the rescue operation was also obvious. The top military commander indicated that "there was no planning to rescue hostages" and disclosed that 48 hours after the hostage taking took place the main special forces were training 30 kilometers away. Even if negotiations were underway, rescue force had to be on location and ready to attack at any moment, especially in the dark, using night goggles, which the terrorists apparently did not have. The rescuers had only two or three armored personnel carriers to use as shields in approaching the building. As a result the special forces fighters were pinned down by the heavy terrorist fire.

The hostage takers also were permitted to dictate the operational tempo. They were able to impose the rescue timing by setting off the explosives and by putting up a stiff resistance that lasted 10 hours, from 1PM to 11PM, when most of them were finally killed. Sporadic fire continued until 4AM the next day. As the building was rigged with explosives, the only chance to save the children if negotiations failed, would have been to overwhelm the terrorists in a surprise, massive, precision attack, taking out most of the perpetrators in the first 5 to 10 minutes. Such an operation could have used storming force technological advantages, such as night vision goggles, stun grenades, or incapacitating gas. Nothing of the kind happened.Roaming Locals. Appallingly, the security forces failed to remove hundreds of armed locals from the hostage-taking scene, interfering with the rescue attempt and catching both the hostages and rescuers in their crossfire. No civilian-free zone was established around the schoolhouse, and this omission ended up allowing the terrorists to shoot civilians outside the building.

The security forces also failed to enforce a secure perimeter. Escaping terrorists broke out of the building and engaged in firefights until the next morning. The Russian anti-terrorist forces did not wear modern Kevlar helmets or, in some cases, bulletproof vests. While the elite Alfa and Vityaz units lost 10 men – the largest losses in their post-Soviet history – some of the rescuers

were the local Northern Ossetian police crowd control and SWAT teams called OMON, hardly trained or equipped for a demanding mission of this type.

This was Russia's fifth massive hostage taking, with over 1,000 hostages captured, and yet the Russian security forces demonstrated that they had learned little from the debacle of Budennovsk, Pervomaysk and Kizlyar in the 1990s, or from Dubrovka/Nord Ost. Finally, the repeated statements in this debate that terrorists' demands were limited, or that the Russians refused to negotiate are factually wrong and politically dangerous. As both panelists indicated, Dr. Leonid Roshal, the children's surgeon from Moscow, had successful negotiations and some children in Beslan were indeed released. Ruslan Aushev, the former President of Ingushetia also negotiated.


Finally, some seem to confuse a "conventional" hostage taker with Islamist terrorists, of whom they prefer to know little. You can negotiate with a bank robber in order to release a hostage. You can use psychologists, you can use tricks. But ultimately you want to catch the perpetrator and put him to justice. If there is a chance that terrorists surrender, you can drag the negotiations, or promise them a release, but later intercept and neutralize them. Russians tried to do that in Budennovsk and Pervomaysk in the 1990s, where the same Shamil Basaev group has taken hundreds of hostages. They failed to catch him. The result - Basaev was back with vengeance. He is a mass murderer, infused with ideas of jihad, not a freedom fighter. Trying to depict him as one is like saying that the Nazis were German patriots who made the trains run on time. Untrue and misleading.

Negotiations with terrorists will breed more terrorism and blackmail, possibly with weapons of mass destruction. By the way, Neville Chamberlain and the French Prime Minister Daladier have "negotiated" with Hitler in 1938, and his "limited" demands on Czechoslovakia. You all know what happened next.

Let's not try to justify and explain the righteousness of cause of the Iraqi jihadi terrorists, of Hamas, Hizbollah, the Chechen Wahhabi extremists, of Islamic Jihad, Jamat Islamiya and Al Qaeda. These are the forces of evil which threaten our life, culture, religion, the wellbeing of the whole world.

Blood of thousands of their innocent victims, like Danile Perl, like the vicitims of 9/11, like the children of Beslan, cannot allow us to do so.

FP: Final word goes to you Mr. Loftus.

Loftus: It is ludicrous to shift the blame for Beslan to the victims. The Russian soldiers had been briefed that every effort to negotiate would be made, which would probably last for several days. The soldiers thought they had plenty of time to plan a rescue operation and erect a cordon. Many of the troops had not even put on their identifying armbands, which resulted in their being mistaken for terrorists. Many Russian troops were shot in the back by the heavily armed parents of Beslan who took part in a most chaotic and undisciplined effort to save as many of the children as they could.

It was the killers themselves who had no intention whatsoever of negotiating, they merely wanted publicity. As for Maskharov, who murdered his political predecessor, I understand the Russian troops now have him surrounded in Chechnya. The idea of him being given safe passage is to "negotiate" is just absurd. It was one more demand that the killers knew would never be met. To paraphrase the President, sometimes therapy just does not work. You just have to kill them.

The sad thing is that most Muslims in Chechnya despise the Islamic extremists. If they know of Qutb at all, it is that he is a heretic propagandist for the Muslim Brotherhood. The people of Chechnya know that the massacre in Beslan was a brutal tactic to try and goad the Russians into some brutal vengeance strike that would push the Chechens into the arms of the extremists.

The Islamic movement needs terror to incite more counter-terror to help their waning recruitment drive. It is, I submit, a sure sign of desperation by a movement that has lost the trust of the people. The fact that the Russians did not launch a massive bombardment of Chechen villages in retaliation is, I submit, a sign of the growing Russian maturation in counter insurgency. Decapitation, not devastation, is the route to victory.

The bottom line form the chaos in Beslan is that at least some kids survived. If the terrorists were able to fulfill their plans, none would have. The spetznatz units should have been primed to go from the first second. The Al Qaeda kidnapping manual makes it clear that this form of mass homicide attack is the wave of the future.

But in the ashes of Beslan, I see traces from the dustbin of history. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920's, was the godfather of all the Islamic terrorist movements. The MB was a key instrument of Nazi intelligence throughout WWII. The British hid the Nazi Arabs in Egypt when the war was over, and sent them to kill Jews in 1948.

When the Egyptian government booted the MB out in 1952, our CIA took them in and evacuated them to Saudi Arabia. There, the Arab Nazis were given jobs in the religious schools, and educated a new generation of Islamofascists like Osama Bin Laden. The CIA asked the Saudis to send the Nazis of the Brotherhood into Afghanistan in the 1980's to defeat the Russians. In 1989, the CIA declared victory, shredded all their files for the Muslim Brotherhood, and went home.

The Saudis did not want the Arab nazis back (who now called themselves Al Qaeda, but they are still dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood). So the Saudis paid off the new generation of Arab Nazis and sent them to Chechnya to keep on killing Russians. Think I am kidding? Google search "Banna" and "Nazi" and you will see what I mean. Instead of flagellating the Russian incompetents for Beslan, we might take a look at ourselves. Perhaps had we finished the job of denazifying the Arabs as we did the Germans, World history might have taken a very different course.