1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Terror in Russia: From Beslan siege to Moscow concert hall

Natalia Smolentceva
March 23, 2024

Terror attacks in Russia have killed hundreds over the past quarter century. DW looks at the Moscow theater crisis, the Beslan school shooting and other attacks and their political repercussions.

Servicemen walk toward Crocus City Hall on western edge of Moscow, March 22, 2024
Friday's attack, the deadliest in years, recalled other recent mass killings by terroristsImage: Sergei Vedyashkin/AP Photo/picture alliance

The Moscow concert hall shooting on March 23 has become the deadliest terrorist attack in Russia in two decades. In the past 25 years, Russia has seen several attacks by terrorists, reportedly from Chechnya and other regions in the North Caucasus. Some were religiously motivated; some were carried out by separatists with political demands. 

The fight against terror has enabled the Kremlin to consolidate power and restrict political and public freedoms. DW looks at the deadliest terror attacks in Russia's recent history and their political consequences. 

Russia detains 4 suspects as death toll rises

1999 apartment bombings 

In September 1999, four explosions hit apartment blocks in Moscow; Buynaksk, in the Republic of Dagestan; and Volgodonsk, in southern Russia. The blasts killed more than 300, left over 1,700 injured, and spread fear among millions across the country. 

The Kremlin blamed Chechen militias for the attack. Though some have dismissed it as a conspiracy theory, several journalists and Russia analysts believe the explosions may have been orchestrated by Russian intelligent services themselves. 

The apartment block bombings were among the factors used to justify sending troops to Chechnya for the Second Chechen War. This response gave Vladimir Putin, who was prime minister at that time, a boost of popularity ahead of his first presidential election. 

Scores killed in Moscow concert hall shooting attack

2002 Moscow theater hostage crisis 

In October 2002, armed Chechen militants seized the crowded Dubrovka Theater in the center of Moscow during a performance of the popular musical "Nord-Ost." More than 900 audience members and performers were taken hostage. The attackers demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. After three days of negotiations, Russian special forces stormed the building after releasing a gas into the auditorium. All 40 hostage takers were killed. Some 130 hostages died, and several hundred more were injured, largely due to the effect of the gas and late medical assistance. The chemical formula of the gas has been kept secret. 

The attack resulted in a crackdown on Chechen separatists. Putin promised to respond with measures "adequate to the threat, striking all the places where terrorists might be located." Following the attack, the Russian Duma also passed anti-terrorism legislation, including restrictions on the media. In the years after the attack, human right groups reported that Chechens in Moscow became the subject of police harassment. 

Chechens fighting for and against Russia in Ukraine

2004 Beslan school siege 

On September 1, 2004, the first day of the new school year in Russia, armed terrorists occupied a school in the town of Beslan in North Ossetia. They took more than 1,100 hostages, including 777 children. The hostage-takers were Chechen rebels under the command of Shamil Basayev, who demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and recognition of the region's independence. 

This time, Russian authorities did not engage in negotiations. On the third day of the siege, special forces stormed the school building, allegedly after the terrorists detonated bombs inside the school. Some witnesses and investigators say the bombs exploded after the shooting from outside the school began. During the operation, 31 hostage-takers were killed, and 334 hostages died, including 183 children. 

Ten days after the attack, Putin addressed the government and proposed abolishing the direct election of regional governors to streamline the administration of authority and better fight terror. Thus, the Kremlin not only consolidated national power but also took the first step toward overseeing federal subject governments.

2010s suicide bombings 

In the 2010s, several suicide bombings took place across Russia, mostly linked to jihadi militias from the North Caucasus. In March 2010, two suicide bombings were carried out in the Moscow metro, killing 40 and injuring more than 100. 

In 2011, a suicide bombing took place at the international arrivals hall at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, killing 37 and injuring 173. In October 2013, a bomb exploded in a bus in the city of Volgograd, followed by two other bombings in December, hitting a train station and trolleybus. The total number of victims came to more than 40. In April 2017, another attack with an explosive device took place in the St. Petersburg metro, killing 15 and injuring 45. 

In contrast to the Beslan and the Dubrovka Theater attacks, terrorists did not make any demands following those attacks. Several special operations followed in the North Caucasus, and the security measures were tightened on public transportation across Russia.

Edited by: Benjamin Knight