A lot of prominent figures have been assassinated all over the world for various reasons. Nevertheless, their impact and influence always lasts in the minds of people.
According to an article published in the Journal of the Royal Society, the first ever assassinated man in the history of mankind was killed by an arrow that pierced his back. This bronze-age man was discovered frozen in the Alps, and dates about 5,300 years BP.
Assassinations have played a major role in world history since ages. Each and every period in world history has several stories telling us how important and influential people were murdered in cold blood, for reasons best known to the assassins or killers themselves (or sometimes, not quite). Assassination is a term used to describe a cold-blooded murder of a person by mounting a surprise attack on him/her. More often than not, such an act is very well-planned and, most of the time, the assassin prefers to await the right moment in order to strike. Several historical documents tell us that assassinations have been carried out for different purposes which range from personal grudges to financial and/or political benefits. However, one of the most important reasons for which such acts took place in the past was to bring about a political upheaval, to usurp the prevailing rule and to establish a new one.
Assassination as a Political Weapon
The first ever documented evidence of assassination(s) and its justification as a weapon of political dominance comes from 4th century B.C. India, where a man called Chanakya, a teacher and royal political advisor, wrote about the act in his treatise on statecraft and polity, the Arthaśāstra. The treatise documents the usefulness of assassinating the enemies, and also how the king should ensure his safety with respect to various coups against him. Assassinations of public figures are thus, much older than recorded history. Even in modern history, several important people have been assassinated for varied reasons, in different parts of the world.
Assassinations that Shocked the World
As mentioned above, assassination has always been an important tool of political power-play and world history is littered with evidence which tell us that, most of the time, it has indeed worked, leading to some of the major coup d’états, thus changing the entire course of history. Following is a list of personalities who might not seem famous to some, but had the power to create history, and their assassination had far-reaching impact on that particular country and region.
Who: Anwar El Sadat was the third President of Egypt, who held office from 15th October, 1970 to 6th October, 1981.
Date of Assassination: 6th October, 1981
Assassin(s): Khalid Ahmed Showky Al-Islambouli
Reason(s) for the Assassination: His attempts to establish peace between Egypt and Israel and the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty lessened his popularity among the Egyptians and the Arabs to a great extent. In 1981, the Egyptian Islamic organization, El-Jihad planned his assassination that took place in October that year. The assassins, led by Islambouli, came in a truck and threw three grenades at Sadat, one of which exploded, killing him instantly.
The Aftermath(s): More than 300 Islamic fundamentalists were convicted during Islambouli’s trial. Islambouli himself was executed on 15th April, 1982. Anwar Sadat’s nephew, Talaat Sadat, claimed that there was an international conspiracy behind the assassination plot and accused the Egyptian army of masterminding the act. He was sentenced to year-long imprisonment on account of defamation of the Egyptian army. However, despite the assassination, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty still lasts, and today, Egypt is one of the important strategic partners of Israel.
Who: Yitzhak Rabin was the fifth Prime Minister of Israel, who served two terms in office – from 1974-77 and from 1992-95.
Date of Assassination: 4th November, 1995
Assassin(s): Yigal Amir
Reason(s) for the Assassination: Rabin, along with the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, signed the Oslo Accord in 1993, which aimed to resolve the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. This step displeased the Israeli right-wingers, and on the evening of 4th November, 1995, he was shot twice with a semi-automatic pistol, after 40 minutes of which, he died of blood loss and a punctured lung.
The Aftermath(s): Rabin’s sudden death came as a great shock to the nation of Israel, as well as the international community. He is now considered as the national symbol of Israeli peace. Yigal Amir was convicted of murder, conspiracy to murder, and aggravated injury. Today, he is serving a life-sentence for murder, and additional six years for injuring Rabin’s bodyguard. Later on, he was also sentenced to additional eight years of imprisonment for conspiring the assassination. The Oslo Accord still binds the two countries, but has been violated many times from both sides since Rabin’s death.
Benigno Aquino, Jr.
Who: Benigno Aquino, Jr. was a member of the Filipino Senate, and also served as the Governor of the Tarlac Province of Philippines from 1961 to 1967. Moreover, he was leader of the opposition during the reign of President Ferdinand Marcos.
Date of Assassination: 21st August, 1983
Reason(s) for the Assassination: Several gunshots were fired at him, when he landed on the Manila International Airport in August, 1983. One of the bullets hit his head, killing him on the spot. Some more bullet wounds were also found on his body. However, the exact reason behind his assassination is still obscure with several controversies popping their heads from time to time.
The Aftermath(s): His assassination made the Philippine opposition, from a small isolated organization with limited public reach, to a nationwide movement. Several people got involved in the opposition after Aquino’s death, including the country’s middle class, the impoverished, and the corporate leaders. Added to this, the assassination attracted international media attention, and several internal flaws and coups, such as the widespread corruption and human rights abuses under dictatorial government of Ferdinand Marcos were exposed before the world.
Ngô Đình Diệm
Who: Ngô Đình Diệm was the first president of South Vietnam, who held office from 1955 to 1963.
Date of Assassination: 2nd November, 1963
Assassin(s): Captain Nguyễn Văn Nhung and Major Dương Hiếu Nghĩa
Reason(s) for the Assassination: Though Ngô Đình Diệm managed to gain considerable U.S. support, owing to his anti-communist policies, he was more infamous for his extremely oppressive and religiously biased behavior towards the Montagnard natives of the country, and also the Buddhists. This led to numerous religious protests under his rule, which resulted in the U.S. losing its trust in his governance. On 2nd November, 1963, Diệm, along with his younger brother Ngô Ðình Nhu, was arrested by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and despite being promised a safe exile, the brothers were shot point blank by the Vietnamese soldiers in the back of the vehicle in which they were being transported.
The Aftermath(s): No formal inquiry regarding the assassinations was ever conducted, and various motives for the same have been put forth, none of them holding a solid ground. The ARVN attempted to cover up the coup, stating that the brothers killed themselves, but photographs of the corpses released to the media indicated otherwise. This coup d’état worked in a reverse fashion leading to a split in the army, a consequence of individual political interests. The international community, especially the U.S. lost its trust completely.
Who: Sven Olof Joachim Palme was the 26th Prime Minister of Sweden, who served two terms in office – from 14th October, 1969 to 8th October, 1976 and from 8th October, 1982 to 28th February, 1986.
Date of Assassination: 28th February, 1986
Reason(s) for the Assassination: Olof Palme was a staunch opponent of the foreign policies of the Soviet Union and the United States. Moreover, he also openly criticized the imperialist and authoritarian regimes in South Africa, Spain, and Czechoslovakia. He regarded apartheid, the South African system of racial segregation enforced by law, as “a particularly gruesome system”, about which he was quite vocal in the media. Owing to this, some conspiracy theorists speculate South African involvement in his assassination. He was shot dead when he was walking home from a cinema with his wife, in Stockholm, on the midnight of 28th February, 1986. He was devoid of any security or bodyguards at that time.
The Aftermath(s): Two years after the incident, Christer Pettersson, a drug addict and a local criminal was charged with Palme’s murder and convicted. However, later, his conviction was overturned. In 2011, an article in the German magazine, Focus, stated the possibility of Yugoslavian conspiracy in the assassination. Another theory states that the assassination was linked to the arms trade in India. However, the motive still remains a mystery, and the investigation of the case still remains active.
Who: Laurent-Désiré Kabila was the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He held office from 17th May, 1997 to 18th January, 2001.
Date of Assassination: 16th January, 2001
Assassin(s): Rashidi Muzele
Reason(s) for the Assassination: According to allegations made by the officials of D.R.Congo and a former intelligence chief of Rwanda, the assassination was masterminded by Rwanda. Rwanda, one of his supporters till 1998, turned against him during the Second Congo War. Muzele, who shot him, was one of his bodyguards. He was killed as he attempted to flee from the assassination spot. Reports say that he was aided by the government of Rwanda.
The Aftermath(s): As many as 135 people were tried for the assassination (which included 4 children). Out of them, 26 people were given a death sentence in 2003, 64 were imprisoned. Some others, who proved to be innocent were released. Conspiracy theorists, however, claim that the trial was unfair and flawed.
Who: Juvénal Habyarimana was the second President of the Republic of Rwanda, who served from 1973 to 1994. This is the longest term ever served by a Rwandan president.
Date of Assassination: 6th April, 1994
Assassin(s): Paul Kagame (possibly)
Reason(s) for the Assassination: On the 6th of April, 1994, Habyarimana’s private jet, which also carried Cyprien Ntaryamira, the President of Burundi, and several other important Rwandan officials, was shot down near the Kigali International Airport. Habyarimana, Ntaryamira, and several others died in this attack. Investigations claimed Paul Kagame, the then Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) leader and the current President of Rwanda, to be the mastermind. In turn, the RPF accused the Hutus (majority ethnic group in Rwanda to which Habyarimana belonged) from within Habyarimana’s party to have masterminded the plan in order to provoke an outrage against the Tutsis (another ethnic group) among the Hutus. However, nothing has been proven with accuracy till date.
The Aftermath(s): An immediate and the most dreadful aftermath of the assassination was the Rwandan genocide that followed. One of the most infamous chapters in the history of Rwanda and the world, the genocide claimed between 800,000 and 1 million lives within 100 days of the massacre.
Who: Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, commonly known as Faisal, was the King of Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975.
Date of Assassination: 25th March, 1975
Assassin(s): Faisal bin Musaid
Reason(s) for the Assassination: King Faisal is credited with rescuing the finances of Saudi Arabia, and more importantly for planning and implementing modernization and reforms in the country. This, according to investigation reports, was the very cause of this brutal murder. On the 25th March, 1975, his nephew, Prince Faisal bin Musaid, shot him point blank at his residence. The king was immediately taken to hospital, but could not survive. The prince supposedly, avenged his father’s death due to a police gunshot, on account of a violent protest on one of the television centers, when television was installed in Saudi Arabia, owing to King Faisal’s modernist reforms.
The Aftermath(s): Prince Faisal was immediately arrested after the incident and was declared insane. But later, a Saudi panel of medicine experts declared that he was sane when he killed the king. The religious courts of Saudi Arabia convicted him of regicide, after which he was decapitated at a public square in Riyadh.
An Assassination that Changed the Fate of the World
Who: Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863-1914), the Royal Prince of Hungary and Bohemia, and the heir apparent to the Austro-Hungarian throne.
Date of Assassination: 28th June, 1914
Place of Assassination: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Time of Assassination: Approximately 10:45 a.m.
Assassin(s): Gavrilo Princip
Reason(s) for the Assassination: At that time, Sarajevo was an Austrian territory. Princip, a member of Black Hand, a Serbian military organization that aimed to free all the states annexed by Austria-Hungary, shot the Archduke and his wife, killing them. Princip did not attempt to escape and was arrested immediately. He was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment.
The Aftermath(s): Just two months after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Owing to this, all the allies of Serbia immediately declared war on Austria-Hungary and their allies. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand thus proved to be a trigger for the beginning of World War I.
Assassinations that Still Haunt the World
The above given are just a handful of the thousands of assassinations, which have been successfully carried out throughout the world till date. But, while talking about famous assassinations in world history, we cannot forget those personalities whose assassinations still continue to haunt people the world over, and whose able leadership and guidance, the world still needs. In fact, the world would have been much different if they were alive today.
The 16th President of the United States of America was shot dead on 15th April, 1865 by a Confederate spy from Maryland named John Wilkes Booth, while Lincoln was watching a play at the Ford’s theater. Booth was allegedly enraged by Lincoln’s support for black voting rights in America.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Mahatma Gandhi, was the Father of Independent India, whose policies of non-violence and civil rights continue to influence the world. He was shot dead on 30th January, 1948 by a Hindu extremist, Nathuram Godse, who believed that Gandhi was guilty of favoring Pakistan. He was also a staunch opponent of Gandhi’s policy of non-violence.
John F. Kennedy
Commonly referred to as JFK, this 35th President of the United States of America was on a political trip to Texas when, on 22 November, 1963, he was assassinated in Dallas. He was shot thrice, in his throat, in his upper back, and finally in his head. A survey conducted by Fox News in 2004, concluded that while 66% of Americans thought that the assassination of JFK was a conspiracy, the remaining 74% thought that attempts were made to cover up the killing.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
He was the leader of the African-American Civil Rights Movement that aimed to put an end to the racial discrimination of African Americans. He was shot dead on 4th April, 1968 by a white man named James Earl Ray, who was his staunch opponent. King was killed with a gunshot while he was standing on the balcony of his motel room. This incident was followed by riots in more than 60 cities across the U.S.A.
The 11th and only woman Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto served in two non-consecutive terms from November 1988 to October 1990, and then from 1993 until she was finally dismissed in November 1996. She was shot during a campaign rally in Rawalpindi on 27th December, 2007, after which she was immediately taken to the Rawalpindi General Hospital but could not survive the injuries.
The responsibility of the attack was claimed by Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, an Al-Qaeda commander. On 26th April, 2013, Pervez Musharraf was taken into house arrest on account of his possible links to her death.
Whenever an important public figure gets assassinated, it always has a long-lasting impact on the people of the country and on the world. Assassination, though considered as an important tool of power politics in the pages of history, is definitely an inhuman and savage tactic of trying to change the course of history and/or creating a new one.