On 1 September 2004 the festive beginning of a new school year in Russia turned into a national tragedy. A group of about 30 armed men and two women wearing explosive belts seized a secondary school in the small town of Beslan near Vladikavkaz in Northern Ossetia. Teachers, pupils, and their relatives were taken hostages. Their number reached about 1300 and consisted mostly of children. The hostage-takers demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from neighbouring Chechnya. Russian commandos and local militia surrounded the school. In a bloody assault that ensued on 3 September most hostages were freed, but in the fighting the school was destroyed, leaving most terrorists together with 11 Russian soldiers and 344 civilians killed and many others injured. Some of the terrorists escaped.