Russian special forces Friday stormed the school near Chechnya where hundreds of children and adults had been held hostage for 52 hours. The troops moved in after an intense gun battle during which dozens of hostages escaped even as gunmen fired on them, shooting some in the back.
Read the story:Russian Special Forces Storm School (Post, Sept. 3)
Washington Post staff writer Susan B. Glasser was online from Moscow on Friday, Sept. 3, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest developments in the siege and hostage situation.
A transcript follows.
Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.
Susan B. Glasser: Thanks for having me today. Obviously, a real tragedy is unfolding right now in southern Russian in the town of Beslan, where a pitched battle has been fought all day over the school where hundreds of children, parents and teachers were held hostage. The scale of the casualties is just now becoming clear, but it's already apparent that as many as 500 were wounded and hundreds more died today. The school was seized Wednesday morning by a band of guerrillas demanding an end to the war in Chechnya.
After this horrific terrorist attack, are the people of Russia demanding stronger measures against terrorists?
Susan B. Glasser: Clearly there will be much fallout from this tragedy... both political and geopolitical. But right now the focus is on finding what actually happened.
The sentiment among some Russian-Americans here is anger and a strong desire for revenge, especially when the news reports said that the Chechens were shooting at the children. What is the mood of the Russian in the street in Moscow? Are average citizens calling for a major military campaign to once and for all wipe out any further Chechen terrorism?
Susan B. Glasser: The scenes from Beslan will undoubtedly cause great anger in Russian society about the consequences of the long-running war in Chechnya and the terrorist acts throughout Russia it has spawned. Hundreds of civilians have died in the last couple of years and yet peace remains elusive. President Putin will have serious questions to answer about his policy, given that he has repeatedly claimed the situation is "normalizing."
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
How does this attack effect Putin's presidency. Also, do the Russian people think he is soft on terrorists?
Susan B. Glasser: This is undoubtedly the most serious test of Putin's presidency but he has so effectively eliminated opposition political voices in Russian society, taken over television and cowed the media that will significantly effect the future fallout from this. Also, it may be that anger focuses here on the hostage takers and not the government. No matter what, Putin has very strong resources to call on. After the Moscow theater siege two years ago, when 129 hostages were killed by the knockout gas used by the Russian government, Putin was able to weather the resulting political storm and go on to win reelection with 71 percent.
How does the conflict in Chechnya relate to other Muslim-related conflicts around the world, and in particular in the Middle East?
Susan B. Glasser: Chechnya in many ways is its own problem, and it has bedeviled Russia for hundreds of years, ever since the czars decided to conquer the Chechens in the late 18th century. The history here is very specific, and very tragic including Josef Stalin's decision to deport the entire Chechen people in 1944 to Central Asia (they were only allowed to return home after Stalin's death). The current conflict has been on and off since the mid-90s. At the same time, the rebels have become increasingly internationalized and religious fundamentalists in recent years as they have been isolated from other sources of support
Are the Chechans terrorists connected in any way with al Qaeda?
Susan B. Glasser: President Putin has consistently asserted an al Qaeda connection with the Chechens, and indeed a group that may have ties to al Qaeda publicly claimed credit for two earlier terrorist acts this week: the downing of two airliners and the Moscow metro station explosion. However, it's also clear that the people carrying out these attacks are almost all Chechens and other people from Russia and the Caucasus, not Arabs or other foreigners.
Upper Marlboro, Md.:
I know there was some confusion about the number of dead and wounded. Any updates?
Susan B. Glasser: What we're hearing right now is very disturbing: reports from the school and our correspondent there that there are potentially hundreds of dead bodies in the gym. Right now, officials are acknowledging more than 100 dead and more than 400 wounded. It's possible there were as many as 1000 hostages.
Is the siege actually over? Or are some people still being held hostage?
Also, I read somewhere that the terrorist has set up a camp in a nearby house ... true? Were the terrorists able to refresh their troops inside the school as necessary?
Thank you ... my heart goes out to all involved in such a horrific and traumatic event. God speed.
Susan B. Glasser: The siege, as far as we can tell, is not over. A number of the guerrillas were reported to have escaped during the initial storming this afternoon and there are reports that some are still holed up in part of the school. The sounds of gunfire continue to ring out from the building.
Susan B. Glasser: Thanks again for all your questions... As you can tell this is a fast-developing situation, and a very very tough day for Russia.