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Sep 7, 2004 | 19:19 GMT

4 mins read

The Chechens' Built-In Attack

Details are emerging about the long-range attack plan used by Chechen militants to take over a school and take hundreds of hostages in Beslan in southern Russia. The incident resulted in hundreds of deaths. It is believed weapons and explosives were placed in the school during renovation of the facility over the summer; Chechen militants used similar tactics in the May 9 assassination of President Akhmed Kadyrov.

Kadyrov’s attackers placed explosive devices within the concrete structure of the Dynamo Stadium in Grozny during renovations. The explosives were embedded in the concrete and went undetected by security teams. Kadyrov’s visit to Dynamo Stadium came during Victory Day celebrations, the first event there since it had been renovated. Similarly, Sept. 1 — the day the militants launched their assault — was the first day of school in Beslan after the building had undergone renovations.

It would appear the Chechens have devised a successful tactic for bypassing Russian security, and — as with almost any incident in the post Sept. 11 world — the implications of the attack will not be limited to the area in which it occurred. This might be especially true in this case because Chechen militants have been linked to al Qaeda.

The attack against Kadyrov was much more sophisticated than the Beslan incident because of the higher security surrounding him. Placing explosive devices, even in a facility under construction or renovation, is a complicated process involving: specific intelligence for locating the explosives for maximum effect, running the connecting wires for detonation to an accessible and undetectable location — and the possibility of being discovered by people noting suspicious activity at the site. More than likely, all of the planted devices were the result of terrorist infiltration of the work crews or bribes to secure access and time — it takes a fair amount of time to ensure the explosive is functional.

Similar tactics could have been used at the school; however, the sophistication and planning of such attacks would vary depending on the selected target. A primary school will likely require much less planning than other “harder” targets, such as an attack against the president in a public stadium. The militants’ pre-operational and tactical preparation adds insight into the level of their advance planning.

For the most part, vetted and trusted U.S. companies are contracted to construct government buildings abroad — a practice begun during the Cold War — and use only workers cleared through security checks for construction and repairs. This limits the threat from militants who might infiltrate local construction companies. During the Cold War the chief construction threat was hostile intelligence services implanting listening and other intelligence devices in a U.S. facility at the time of construction, but the threat now is that individuals will seek to implant explosive devices.

Placing weapons or explosives within a facility during construction or renovation — when it is more vulnerable and less secure — offers militants a clear opportunity to act. Depending on the project in the United States and other places, building personnel are not present, construction teams often do not work round the clock and construction security is often limited, if present at all. Additionally, construction companies do not conduct extensive background checks of employees; it should be noted that the industry also routinely employs undocumented workers throughout Western countries. It appears that it might not be very difficult to use tactics such as these as part of a larger plan of attack: Construction work is not the most difficult work to get, and hiding weapons and explosives on a construction would not necessarily require an extensive militant background.

U.S. government facilities, especially those overseas, have become fortress-like “hard targets,” making it almost impossible to carry out a successful attack against them using tried-and-true methods and tactics. “Soft targets” — hotels, railways, office buildings, etc. — also have increased their efforts to prevent an attack. Such efforts force attackers to be very resourceful when planning an operation, including those who might take their cues from the Chechens in Grozny or in Beslan, where officials announced Sept. 6 that construction on a new school and hospital soon would begin.

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