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Book Review: Terror at Beslan — A Russian Tragedy with Lessons for America’s Schools by John Giduck

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If you are in law enforcement or the military, this book is required reading, and the follow-on counter-terrorism training should be made mandatory. If you are in law, politics or the media, this book is a must-read, and a follow-up educational seminar should be required since you’ll likely not get it the first time around. But most importantly, if you are the parent of school-age children, you cannot let the new school year start before studying this book and fully absorbing its contents.

My review of this book, Terror at Beslan, is thorough and, as such, it is lengthy. I implore you to focus, pay attention, and read it thoroughly. Do not tune it out, or put it off until later. It has everything to do with your most precious possessions: your children and your grandchildren. Terror at Beslan is a handbook for saving lives, and it could one day be your own child that is saved by the precepts found in its pages. Mothers, pay special heed – and you’ll know exactly why when you get to the end of this review. Parents, listen: your children are targets and it is only you who can force the powers-that-be to protect them.

Because if you don’t… 

 


On September 1, 2004, the first day of school in Beslan, Russia, crowds of celebratory townspeople flowed happily throughout the grounds of Beslan Middle School No. 1. Grandparents and parents mingled in the warm sun beaming down into the courtyards and waved good-bye as excited children dashed away through the throngs of people to chase down their friends. Teachers stood in doorways, welcoming the students as parents turned away to start their days.

We Americans can all imagine the happy cacophony of squealing kids, the thrill of seeing school friends after a long, hot summer, the satisfying weight of new school supplies in brand new back-packs, and the pressing priority of showing off new lunch boxes with our latest hero on the cover. We’ve all been there, or have re-lived it with our own children. It was into this happy and excited midst that Islamic terrorists staged a long-planned, well-coordinated, and lightening assault on adults and children alike. Within minutes, over twelve hundred parents, teachers, and children – sixty percent of the crowd at the school that morning – were taken hostage and herded inside the school as a few bloody bodies littered the courtyard outside.

We Americans never got the full or accurate story of the horrifying inhumanity that then commenced inside that school over the next three days of the siege. There is only one in-depth analysis of the terrorist assault and the disastrous culmination of events three days later, and it is this book. There is only one place to go to learn how to prepare and plan for the inevitable terrorist attack on our own American children, and that is into the memories and nightmares of the people who survived. There is only one man who was ever accorded the respect and access to survivors of the siege, central players in the stand-off, and decision-makers in the government, and it is this author, John Giduck.

Why was John Giduck – unique among all others, American or otherwise – afforded such access in the aftermath of Beslan? Because he already had a long history, relationships, and trust built into the Special Forces community of Russia. He was not a Johnny-come-lately to the scene – he’d already spent a decade and a half working and training with Russian Special Forces. John Giduck holds a master’s degree in Russian Studies and International Affairs, with a certificate in Russian History, Culture, and Language from St. Petersburg University in Russia. He has traveled Russia, lived and worked there – the Russian people know him, and trust him.

Giduck is the only American to have conducted any on-site analysis of the siege, or given access to any of the players. He made several trips and spent months in Russia for the express purpose of studying Beslan. No one else has ever bothered. Giduck is also uniquely qualified to analyze the strategic and tactical situation within the broader context of the War of Terror. He holds the highest level of certification in Homeland Security and is a member of the executive Advisory Board of the American College of Homeland Security. He is a U.S. Army Special Forces hand-to-hand combat and firearms instructor and is highly skilled in several international martial arts disciplines. Through the Archangel Group, he currently provides consulting and training on anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism to law enforcement and other agencies – he is one of our nation’s leading experts on terrorism.

John Giduck was the only American to conduct months of on-site investigation. It is this unique, knowledgeable, and experienced perspective that John Giduck brings to this book. As American civilians, we would be foolish to rely upon the notoriously inaccurate media reports of the events at Beslan or white-washed political analysis of the aftermath. There is no one else out there more qualified to analyze the events leading up to Beslan, and contextualize the subsequent ramifications for America than this author.

The author makes no bones about it, and his assessment has been confirmed many times over by the FBI – we will suffer a massive, simultaneous, multi-site terrorist attack on our schools, and likely very soon. Beslan, in all its horror, degradation, and suffering, was merely a trial run for what Islamic terrorists intend to visit upon American children. There is no more room for pallid hopes that they will “see the light” or grant mercy upon the innocents. Islamic terrorists have already attacked the schools of other nations (not just Beslan), they have said they will attack our schools, and they will. Lieutenant Colonel John D. Grossman, who wrote the forward for this book and is himself an expert on terrorism, has an axiom that states that the best predictor of future conduct is past behavior. In the case of terrorism against children, to plan for anything less than a full-out, multi-site assault on our schools would be criminally negligent.

In Part One, The Long Road To Beslan, Giduck does an excellent job of sketching the history of terrorism in Russia leading up to the Beslan siege, the two recent Chechen Wars, and the fractured history of the Special Forces Counter-Terror units in Russia.

Part Two, Attack on the School, is the play-by-play account of the actual assault, the three-day siege, and the resultant conflagration. This information is critical to our law enforcement today, and there is no other accurate accounting of it available other than this book. The publishers of this book, Archangel Group, have prepared conferences for military and law enforcement to benefit from the lessons learned in the wake of so much tragedy. They also present training for school administration and municipalities to help them evaluate and asses their vulnerabilities and risks. Much of the insights presented in the training have been learned directly from Giduck’s involvement at Beslan on the last day of the siege and the resultant aftermath.

In Part Three, Dissecting a Terrorist Siege, Giduck draws upon his years in Special Operations and counter-terrorism to analyze the siege, starting with the terrorists’ original plan, their execution of it, and the government’s response. Of most value to Americans is the hindsight and lessons learned from the assault. If we, as a nation, do not take to heart the insights gleaned from the debacle of Beslan, then we remain powerless to prevent anything, and the innocents will have died in vain.

Finally, in Part Four, Preparing America for Battle, Giduck lays out a very comprehensive plan to prepare us for the inevitable. There is much to do to prepare, and not much is being done about it. When John asked Russian experts what the most important things were for America to learn from Beslan, it was to prepare – physically, tactically, and mentally.

Russians are not typically a people who take great pains to keep their opinions to themselves. However, when urges to articulate what America must do to prepare for an assault on her own schools, even the most vocal become strangely humble. They know what is at stake. “Security in schools should be a large system,” Special Forces commander Sergei Lisyuk says. “The first and most important part of the system must be the information and intelligence system.” …He is not unrealistic about the changes this would entail. “This would be a large deviation from how schools have historically viewed themselves and their mission,” he admits. “But if they do not adapt to the times, and recognize the threats they are now under, they may not have children to teach”…To keep their children safe in order to educate them, [schools] must take on – at least to some degree a tactical mindset.

We Americans are woefully under-informed and ill-prepared for a ruthless attack against our children, likely because we cannot fathom it. Giduck understands the threat like no other and conveys the seriousness and urgency with which we must face the facts:

The problem up until now is that to most Americans – despite all of the terror attacks on our fellow citizens, on our property, and despite 9/11 – the very notion of Islamist extremists coming here to kill us remains a distant and unrealistic thought. The average person does not get up every day and seriously contemplate that the bridge he is about to drive across on his way to work, or the office building he is about to walk into, the mall or restaurant she will have lunch in, the school or day-care her children will merrily clamor into that morning, may well be the target of a terrorist attack. Moreover, Americans have not been given the information needed – in the context required – to recognize this is not only a realistic and serious concern, but an inevitable one.

…Most of us are incapable of realistically appreciating that Beslan was little more than a dry run of operations [Islamists] intend to soon be running on American soil, against American targets, and American children.

Giduck has spoken with a number of security officials and administrators from different school districts and though they are aware of the threat, they know that what really needs to be done to prepare for a Beslan-type attack in America would never be tolerated by school boards or parents.

[To] a person they say, “That will be the case until the first school is attacked, and there is a big body count of children.” Only then will America wake up to the reality of the situation and what must be done to prepare for what is certain to happen again.

I can’t speak for you, but I am most adamantly not willing to wait for children’s bodies to pile up before we begin preparations. This book is so chock-full of practical preparations that it would be negligent to not implement them – if we fail to plan, we plan to fail. And in the case of terrorism, children will certainly die as a result of our wish to not face the harsh reality in which we now live. We are a nation at war, and it is coming very soon to a neighborhood near you.

One of Giduck’s comprehensive approaches to this book was to painstakingly provide history behind world-wide Islamic jihad. Throw out what you think you know about Islam, and be prepared to have your eyes opened. Giduck, in the tone of a dispassionate counter-terror instructor, leaves you absolutely no room for doubt as to what we are up against. He says it is critical that we Americans put aside our “naïve expectations and unrealistic hopes of a happy or peaceful resolution.” We are in a war that cannot and will not be fought only by our Armed Forces – we are all, quite literally, in a fight for our lives.

In order to understand the threat we face today, what the terrorists are planning for America this very minutes, some grasp of the history of Islam and its impact on the world is essential…

It has become popular and politically correct to publicly tout Islam as the “religion of peace.” Though the vast majority of Muslims live peaceful lives, it remains a faith steeped in a foundation of violence. Today, there is no other single common factor in the wholesale slaughter of innocent men, women, and children around the world than the perpetrators’ conscription into the Islamic faith. And when a terror attack occurs, the average, everyday Muslims living in America are all too quickly seen on television decrying the non-Islamic community for blaming them for the acts of the terrorists. Their only response is that the consequences of the terrorist attacks should not be taken out on them. In this, too, they prey upon the sensitivity of Americans to claims of discrimination and bigotry. Strangely, what seems never to be heard is an outright condemnation of the terrorists’ atrocities.

For a single religion to spawn so much hatred, so much inhuman capacity to commit violence against the innocent – there must be a cause. That cause cannot be the preaching of tolerance and peace so often ascribed to it.

[…]

According to [Billy] Waugh [Special Operations], America must start recognizing that we are not dealing with a group of people who see anything from our perspective. “Islamic fundamentalists have the capacity to believe in something to the point where they would give up their lives for it. We don’t have that level of belief for anything in our country, and…part of the shock with suicide bombers and hijackers…is our inability to understand this level of passion and commitment. It seems horribly misguided to us, but it’s real, and it isn’t changing. Our ideas about them have to change to fit reality.” It would seem that the majority – the hundreds of millions – of peace-loving Muslims the world over would condemn the extremists, would come out in opposition of their atrocities. Few do. The religious leaders fail to entirely realize the responsibility for stopping this bloodshed falls squarely on their shoulders.

Billy relates that the level of hatred for America within much of that culture is shocking….if America is to survive it must change. And in changing it cannot be wringing its hands over an increasing lack of popularity in the world…

When viewing the terrorist situation we have inherited and the history behind its development…we must begin to realize that the United States has been like an overindulgent parent, too slow to realize the evil of its own progeny, continuing to nurture and even support it long after feeling the sting of its remorseless and conscienceless rage. We have…been too slow to recognize that now it must be killed to be stopped. There is no other answer; the enemy will not permit us one.

Giduck goes on to give a factual overview of the life of Muhammed and the rise of Islam from its bloody origins. Again, he writes this awful summary of historical context in the dispassionate tone of one who has seen and dealt with the end result. There is no hysteria, no wringing of hands, just the facts. He also spends another chapter outlining the various attacks on America – more than we’ve ever heard about or paid attention to – as Islamists have fully grown into their hatred of the West. This chilling chapter contains account after account of Americans murdered, taken hostage for years and years, their lives ruined or destroyed – and we’ve barely noticed. Sadly, Giduck’s summary is still only scratching the surface.

Terrorists are not like conventional American criminals. In fact, they are not criminals at all, but enemy combatants intent on destroying our country and our people.

[…] 

The people we must now prepare for are religious zealots, brain-washed automatons, whose very indoctrination training and seething hatred for us, and for their hostages, will render them impervious to the best-intentioned psychological pandering. In many cases the terrorists have been raised from birth to accept and even yearn to see human death and suffering – particularly the death and suffering of non-believers. Of infidels. They are cult-created psychotics, artificially constructed sociopaths for whom hostages serve their very purpose and whom they do want to kill. Only they want to kill them at the time and manner of their choosing for maximum effect. They have already chosen the place.

I remember that when I first heard about the terrorist siege at Beslan, Russia, it felt like a cold vise clamped down on my heart. My mind immediately zoomed in on the suffering of the children and the incomprehensible anguish of the parents who could only wait, listen, and watch as their children were being brutalized. My imagination skittered away from imagining lifeless bodies of boys my own son’s age being tossed out of second-story windows like broken rag dolls on a garbage heap. I could not wrap my brain around the horror of a mother forced to watch terrorists take turns raping tiny girls and boys and killing anyone who tried to help.

Now, two years later, such horrified aversion to reality is no longer an option. In reading this book, I have looked squarely into the face of our enemy, and my heart has hardened. In an email dialogue with a family member recently, I wrote of the Beslan siege itself: “Toddlers were beaten for sadistic fun and little girls were raped nearly unto death. Nursing mothers and middle aged teachers were raped repeatedly on the floors in the midst of hundreds of terrified and sobbing children. The summer heat created an oven of the gym they were suffocating in, yet they were allowed no water and no food. The terrorists placed bottles of water in front of pitifully dehydrated little ones with orders not to touch, and then shot them when their little hands reached for the life-saving water anyway. The hostages resorted to drinking their urine for hydration and pouring urine over their skin for moisture. On day three, several bombs prematurely exploded amidst the hostages and forced the Russian Special Forces to assault the school as the terrorists went berserk. It took more than 10 hours of heavy sustained combat to defeat the terrorists. In the end, 338 people were dead (including 172 children) and over 700 were wounded. A handful escaped unscathed but for the crippling psychological scars they’ll never recover from. It was the most depraved cruelty our generation has ever seen.”

The reality is that our schools will be assaulted – and we will see children brutalized, beheaded, raped, and executed before our horrified eyes. We must do whatever it takes, with the maximum use of force and violence, to defeat terrorism. Russia’s experts told Giduck that “terrorism is everyone’s problem,” and every single one of us in America must accept his and her responsibility for dealing with it. There is no political solution that will end this war and bring the insanity to an end – not any time soon, perhaps not ever. We face an implacable and heartless enemy – and we are at war for now and into the foreseeable future. Nothing a politician can say or do can change the course of this clash of civilizations – he or she, at best, can only position us for maximum advantage – or disadvantage, as the case may be.

It’s no accident that we have not been attacked on our soil again these past five years since 9/11. Our troops are fighting terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan – in every conceivable way drawing the terrorists of the world into their guns – which has been infinitely better than fighting this unceasing war in our streets. But though our military has engaged the terrorists in the very epicenter of their world, they will stay distracted for only so long. This war against terrorism is a very long war, and we won’t see an end to it any time soon – unless we give up. The ramifications of that are unthinkable – it cannot be an option. The enemies we face have fomented their hatred for generations and their religious fervor them unreasonable and non-negotiable. They do not fear death, they embrace it. They do not fear world-wide public opinion, they scorn it.

As the Russians have already learned the hard way, “Act or wait to die are your only real choices.”


I implore everyone to read this book, and then pass it along. Forward this review to every parent you know or print it out and hand it off. I am personally recommending this book to every person I meet, and have already ordered additional copies to deliver to the Houston and Clear Creek Independent School Districts. It is the least I can do for now – though I fully intend to do much, much more before I’m through*.

It is imperative that we fully understand the nature of the threat so that we can begin to prepare. The more we prepare now, the fewer lives will be lost when the assault occurs. Quite surprisingly, Giduck, an experienced commando and combat expert, acknowledges an unimpeachable resource to draw upon in this war the terrorists will visit upon our children.

Perhaps the greatest single asset in our anti-terrorism efforts comes from the mothers of school age children…They represent the single largest and most motivated security and intelligence force our country has…

I can easily imagine the havoc these women would wreak on terrorists in this country if their schools were targeted. Unlike Beslan, as soon as the threat was perceived, some would be on their cell phones, calling local police and husbands, many of whom would be within seconds of the school with guns. Some, already in their vehicles would escape while others rammed the groups of terrorists with their SUVs as they took positions around the school. Some might flee on foot, taking refuge in areas throughout the school. Still others, likely armed themselves, would simply pull their guns from ready purses and shoot some of them down.

No one can realistically believe that a small group of enraged mothers would be an effective counter-force to a larger group of heavily armed, well-trained jihadists taking over an American school. Nor that they would likely possess the skills to ascertain sophisticated surveillance activities. But just because you cannot do “everything” does not mean that you should not do what you are capable of. Terrorists are human, they make mistakes too; and if committed citizens like the mothers of our children are there every time they make a mistake in their plotting against our children, we will be able to stop them time and again.

The words of Sergei Lisyuk should ring in our ears everyday for the rest of our lives: “There is going to be a battle. People will die.” Some causes are worth dying for. The lives of our children and the freedom of our nation are chief among them.


* If you would be interested in attending an eight-hour counter-terrorism conference for concerned parents, teachers, and law enforcement, please email me. I have already contacted Archangel Group and they are willing to come to Houston, Texas. I hardly think that I’m the only concerned parent out there, so I’m testing the waters to see who else might be interested. I’m especially interested in bloggers who can help get the word out. If you’re not sure, get the book – and then you’ll be damn sure.

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