NAZRAN, Russian Federation – Russian medical centers were overcome with the wounded, the dying and their blood in the hours after Friday’s violent conclusion to the hostage drama at a school in Beslan. The attack, by terrorists believed linked to some Chechen separatists, left an estimated 350 dead and hundreds more wounded.
“The mattresses were soaked in blood. They couldn’t be cleaned; they had to be destroyed,” said David Womble, Russia program manager for the Christian humanitarian organization World Vision.
Womble, based 12 miles away in Nazran, Saturday visited medical facilities in Beslan and nearby Vladikavkaz, where doctors had been working around the clock treating hundreds of wounded children and adults.
“It looked like a scene from ‘Emergency 911.’ The hospitals were in full response mode,” he said. Beds were full of bandaged patients, surrounded by family members. The corridors were crowded with people trying to learn the fate of loved ones. Most of Womble’s meetings took place in those corridors.
“They weren’t long conversations,” he said. “The doctors were visibly shaken and exhausted after working 24 hours straight.” While discussing supplies needed to replenish hospital stocks depleted by the onslaught of wounded, one doctor broke down in tears. “The experience is taking an emotional toll,” said Womble.
The first of World Vision’s initial $75,000 relief aid is scheduled to arrive in Belsan and Vladikavkaz on Monday. The agency will provide scalpels, plastic mattress covers, diapers for children and adults, blood pressure gauges, lung ventilation equipment, bedside monitors and, likely, new hospital beds. United Nations and other aid agencies are meeting needs for medicines, mattresses and other items requested by doctors.
However, said Womble, the deepest needs are not yet visible. “Over the next few days, energy will be focused on treating the wounded and burying the dead. People are still in a state of shock. But then, t rauma will set in, especially with the children and adults who had been held hostage. For the next few months, they could have a serious problem with flashbacks, headaches, nightmares and other symptoms.”
World Vision will work with other organizations to design psycho-social programs for survivors. The agency has experience in nearby Chechnya, where six staff psychologists provide counseling to children traumatized by the war, and train teachers and parents to recognize symptoms of stress in children.
Virtually all of Beslan’s 30,000 residents were affected by this tragedy, said Womble. “This was Russia’s September 11. Attacking a school is beyond the pale of understanding. It’s been condemned throughout Russia by leaders of all ethnic and religious communities, and by Chechen rebel leaders.”
A radical Islamic group affiliated with Al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri took “credit” for the massacre, according to Gary Bauer with American Values. Early reports indicate that at least 10 of the 26 terrorists were Arabs. Survivors described some of them as “Wahhabis,” followers of the Islamic sect originating in Saudi Arabia, because they were wearing “prayer caps” and had long beards. One female terrorist ordered the hostages to pray to Allah.
In early September, nine children and a teacher were killed in an attack on a school in Afghanistan. The main suspect for that atrocity is the school’s Islamic religion instructor.
“I believe we are entering a very dangerous period,” said Bauer. “For the second time in as many weeks, we have seen jihadists pull off two terror attacks that we know were planned or rehearsed by Al Qaeda – the simultaneous downing of multiple aircraft and a vicious assault against a school. While both of these atrocities took place in Russia, it would be incredibly naive to assume it could not happen here.”