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Assassination is the deliberate killing of an important person, usually a political figure or other strategically important individual. An assassin or the assassin's employer usually has an ideological or political agenda, and regards the target as an obstacle to furthering his agenda. Other motivations may be money, as in the case of a contract killing, revenge, or acts of espionage at the request of a government. Assassination, along with terms such as terrorist and freedom fighter, is often considered to be a loaded term.

Some governments use the euphemism targeted killing as the name for the controversial strategy to save their citizens' lives whereby anticipated acts of terrorism are prevented by assassinating a person deemed to be related to those acts.


[edit] Etymology

The neutrality of this section is disputed.
Please see the discussion on the talk page.

The Hashshashin (also Hashishin, Hashashiyyin or Assassins) had a militant basis as a religious sect (often referred to as a cult) of Ismaili Muslims from the Nizari sub-sect. They were thought to be active in the 8th to 14th centuries. This mystic secret society killed members of the Abbasid elite for political or religious motivations. The word "assassin" is derived from their name. Their own name for the sect was al-da'wa al-jadīda (الدعوةالجديدة) which means "the new doctrine." They called themselves fedayeen from the Arabic fidā'ī, which means "one who is ready to sacrifice his/her life for a cause."

Benjamin of Tudela provided the first western account of the sect. Marco Polo's elaborate account is probably fictionalized in part. He said that recruits were promised Paradise in return for dying in action. It was said that they were drugged, often with materials such as hashish (although some suggest opium and wine instead, despite all three drugs being condemned by Islamic religious authorities and interpretations of the time) then spirited away to a central courtyard. At this time, they were awakened and it was explained to them that such was their reward for the deed, convincing them that their leader, Hassan-i-Sabah, could open the gates to Paradise. The name assassin is derived from either hasishin for the supposed influence of their attacks and disregard for their own lives in the process, or hassansin for their leader. All this history, however, is tenuous, as it relies entirely on crusader-authored histories which have been traditionally very unreliable for information about native cultures.

Today, it is known that hashishinnya was an offensive term used to depict this cult by its Muslim and Mongolian detractors; the extreme zeal of Nizarites and the very cold preparation to murder makes it very unlikely they ever used drugs, while there is evidence that one of the first of Hassan's sons was sentenced to death by his father only for drinking a little wine[verification needed]. Moreover, despite many unlikely legends, they usually died along with their target (a tale tells of a mother being sad knowing her son survived a "mission").[citation needed] As far as is known they only used daggers (no other weapons, poison or whatever fictional records make them use) and it seems that they killed only five Westerners during the time of the Crusades.

[edit] Definition problems

Image:Death of Inejiro Asanuma.jpg
The assassination of Japanese politician Inejiro Asanuma, caught on camera.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary, to assassinate is "To murder (a prominent person) by surprise attack, as for political reasons."<ref>Assassination (American Heritage Dictionary)</ref>

Unlike some topics, such as terrorism, wherein there is a substantial grey area and often bitter controversy between which specific instances qualify or even what standards should be used, the "common sense" classification of assassination stated at the outset of this article seems to stand with few objections. However, this does open larger issues concerning interpretation, notably regarding attempted killings by those with other motives. For instance, should a murder be considered an assassination only if the victim is a political leader or public figure hostile to the agenda of the killer, or should the term include killings where the assassin's primary motivation is based solely on the victim's status as a celebrity in order to attract attention to his cause or for purely personal reasons?

Notable instances in which this definitional problem has come into effect include the attempt on the life of United States President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, who was determined subsequently to have serious psychological problems and publicly stated his intent was to get the attention of actress Jodie Foster rather than make any political statement. The killing of former Beatle John Lennon posed a similar problem — despite Lennon's outspokenness on many liberal political issues, his killer does not seem to have been more than an unstable fan. The use of the term "assassination" to describe Lennon's murder is a matter of some additional debate, since Lennon was primarily an entertainer, not a political figure, and it could be argued that describing his killing as an assassination is no more appropriate than, for example, using the term to describe the murders of singers Selena Quintanilla or Marvin Gaye. The issue is further complicated by the fact that although Lennon was likely as outspoken politically as Reagan (and certainly as famous), Reagan was an elected official at the time, possibly requiring different criteria for Lennon's case.

One can take one of three positions (note that this consideration is of necessity strictly based upon language, not law): that the killing of someone only for political, moral, or ideological reasons constitutes an assassination (hence neither Reagan nor Lennon were the victims of assassins' attacks, while Ford was), that the killing of someone serving in politics or public office counts (thus Reagan's and Ford's attackers were would-be assassins, while Lennon's killer was not), or that anyone with a significant level of political involvement would be an assassination victim in the event of their murder (in which case all three instances would be assassinations or attempts).

While it must be acknowledged that attempting to read a person's thoughts is both imperfect and somewhat antithetical to the nature of such an issue, for the purposes of this article, the first, most conservative definition is taken. Although it is likely that the second is the most popular, the first is technically the most correct, and the third is generally considered to be too general in application. Therefore, all assassinations or attempts mentioned in the article will strictly follow the guidelines outlined at the outset to prevent confusion.

[edit] Assassinations in history

Leon Czolgosz shoots President William McKinley in 1901, with a concealed revolver.

[edit] Ancient history

Some would argue that assassination is one of the oldest tools of power politics, dating back to the earliest governments of the world.

Chanakya (c. 350-283 BC) wrote about assassinations in detail in his political treatise Arthashastra. His student Chandragupta Maurya, the founder of the Maurya Empire, later made use of assassinations against some of his enemies, including two of Alexander's generals Nicanor and Philip.<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref>

Towards the end of the Warring States Period (3rd century BC) in China, the state Qin rose to hegemony over other states. The Prince of the state Yan felt the threat and sought to remove the Qin king (later Qin Shi Huang) and sent Jing Ke for the mission. The assassination attempt was foiled and Jing Ke was killed on the spot.

Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, can be viewed as a victim of assassination. It is a fact, however, that by the fall of the Roman Republic assassination had become a commonly-accepted tool towards the end not only of improving one's own position, but to influence policy — the killing of Gaius Julius Caesar being a notable example, though many Emperors met such an end. In whatever case, there seems to have not been a good deal of moral indignation at the practice amongst the political circles of the time, save, naturally, by the affected. Many of the Shia Imams were assassinated

As the Middle Ages came about from the fall of the Roman Empire, the moral and ethical dimensions of what was before a simple political tool began to take shape. Although in that period intentional regicide was an extremely rare occurrence, the situation changed dramatically with the Renaissance when the ideas of tyrannomachy (i.e. killing of a King when his rule becomes tyrannical) re-emerged and gained recognition. Many a head of state of the time fell at the hands of an assassin, such as Henry III and Henry IV of France. There were notable detractors, however; Abd-ul-Mejid of the Ottoman Empire refused to put to death plotters against his life during his reign.

[edit] Modern history

Image:Shot Dead on Arrival.JPG
Ninoy Aquino, Philippines' President Ferdinand Marcos' top political nemesis, was shot dead in 1983 by an alleged assassin, who was later killed by military escorts of Aquino. Investigations later concluded that one of the escorts shot the late senator.

As the world moved into the present day and the stakes in political clashes of will continued to grow to a global scale, the number of assassinations concurrently multiplied. In Russia alone, five emperors were assassinated within less than 200 years - Ivan VI, Peter III, Paul I, Alexander II and Nicholas II (along with his family: his wife, Alexandra; daughters Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, and son Alexey). The most notable assassination victim within early U.S. history was President Abraham Lincoln. Three other U.S. Presidents have been killed by assassination: James Garfield, William McKinley, and John F. Kennedy. Presidents Andrew Jackson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan survived significant assassination attempts (FDR while President-elect, the others while in office). Former President Theodore Roosevelt was shot and wounded during the 1912 presidential campaign. An assassination plot against Jefferson Davis, known as the Dahlgren Affair, may have been initiated during the American Civil War. In Europe the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by Serb nationalist insurgents triggered World War I. However, the 20th century likely marks the first time nation-states began training assassins to be specifically used against so-called enemies of the state. During World War II, for example, MI6 trained a group of Czechoslovakian operatives to kill the Nazi general Reinhard Heydrich (who did later perish by their efforts - see Operation Anthropoid), and repeated attempts were made by both the British MI6, the American Office of Strategic Services (later the Central Intelligence Agency) and the Soviet SMERSH to kill Adolf Hitler, who was in fact nearly killed in a bomb plot by some of his own officers.

[edit] Cold War

The Cold War saw a dramatic increase in the number of political assassinations, likely due in large part to the ideological polarization of most of the First and Second worlds, whose adherents were more than willing to both justify and finance such killings. During the Kennedy era Fidel Castro narrowly escaped death on several occasions at the hands of the CIA (a function of the agency's "executive action" program) and CIA-backed rebels (there are accounts that exploding shoes and poisoned clams were employed); some allege that Salvador Allende of Chile was another example, though specific proof is lacking. The assassination of the FBI agent Dan Mitrione, a well known torture's teacher, in hands of the Uruguayan guerrilla movement Tupamaros is a perfect proof of United States intervention in Latin American governments during the Cold War. At the same time, the KGB made creative use of assassination to deal with high-profile defectors such as Georgi Markov, and Israel's Mossad made use of such tactics to eliminate Palestinian guerrillas, politicians and revolutionaries, though some Israelis argue that the targeted often crossed the line between one or another or were even all three. Most major powers were not long in repudiating such tactics, for example during the presidency of Gerald Ford in the United States in 1976 (Executive Order 12333, which proscription was relaxed however by the George W. Bush administration). Many allege, however, that this is merely a smoke screen for political and moral benefit and that the covert and illegal training of assassins by major intelligence agencies continue, such as at the School of the Americas run by the United States. In fact, the debate over the use of such tactics is not closed by any means; many accuse Russia of continuing to practice it in Chechnya and against Chechens abroad, as well as Israel in Palestine and against Palestinians abroad (as well as those Mossad deems a threat to Israeli national security, as in the aftermath of the Munich Massacre during "Operation Wrath of God"). Besides Palestine Liberation Organization members assassinated abroad, Tsahal has also often targeted Hamas activists in the Gaza strip.

Terrorist organizations will frequently target other combatants as well as non-combatants in ther efforts, a prime example was the assassination of Irish Republican solicitor Patrick Finucane who was murdered by the loyalist Ulster Defence Association in 1989 in Belfast , Northern Ireland.

[edit] In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) employed what they call "focused foiling" (Hebrew: סיכול ממוקד sikul memukad) against those considered proven to have intentions of performing a specific act of violence in the very near future or to be linked indirectly with several acts of violence (organizing, planning, researching means of destruction etc), thus raising the likelihood that his or her assassination would foil similar activities in the future. Usually, such strikes have been carried out by Israeli Air Force attack helicopters that fire guided missiles toward the target, after the Shin Bet supplies intelligence for the target.

[edit] Controversies relating to the targeted killing policy

The exact nature of said proof in focused foiling situations is both controversial and classified, as it involves clandestine military intelligence oriented means and operational decisions made by intelligence officers and commanders rather than being a part of a published justice system executed by lawyers and judges.

The IDF claims that targeted killings are only pursued to prevent future terrorism acts, not as revenge for past activities. It also claims that this practice is only used when there is absolutely no practical way of foiling the future acts by other means (e.g., arrest) with minimal risk to the soldiers or civilians. IDF also claims that the practice is only used when there is a certainty in the identification of the target, in order to minimize harm to innocent bystanders. These IDF claims have never been monitored or validated by an independent authority, and the IDF deliberations about the killings remain secret. Moreover, actual injury and death of innocent bystanders, unintended as they may be, remains a strong claim by opponents of these targeted killings.

Defenders of this practice point out that it is in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention (Part 3, Article 1, Section 28) which reads: “The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations,” and so they argue that international law explicitly gives Israel the right to conduct military operations against military targets under these circumstances.<ref>Podhoretz, John. "Hamas kills its own", Opinion, New York Post, July 24, 2002, pp. p.29. Retrieved on 2006-08-05. “The Fourth Geneva Convention goes into great and elaborate detail about how to assign fault when military activities take place in civilian areas. Those who are actually fighting the war are not considered "protected persons." Only civilians are granted the status of "protected persons" whose rights cannot be violated with impunity. The Fourth Geneva Convention convicts Hamas and Salah Shehada in one sentence. That sentence makes up the entirety of Part 3, Article 1, Section 28. It reads: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations." This sentence appears in the Fourth Geneva Convention precisely to deal with situations like the ones the Israelis faced.”Note: The New York Post link to the article may be found here, but it requires a subscription.</ref><ref>Template:Cite web</ref>

[edit] Israeli public support for targeted hits

Targeted killings are largely supported by Israeli society to various extents,<ref>Template:Cite paper</ref><ref>Template:Cite journal</ref> but there are exceptions: In 2003, 27 IAF Air Force pilots composed a letter of protest to the Air Force commander Dan Halutz, announcing their refusal to continue and perform attacks on targets within Palestinian population centers, and claiming that the occupation of the Palestinians "morally corrupts the fabric of Israeli society". This letter, the first of its kind emanating from the Air Force, evoked a storm of political protest in Israel, with most circles condemning it as dereliction of duty. IDF ethics forbid soldiers from making public political affiliations, and subsequently the IDF chief of staff announced that all the signatories would be suspended from flight duty, after which some of the pilots recanted and removed their signature.

[edit] Well known Israeli hit operations

Some of the best known targeted killings by Israeli military were Hamas leaders Salah Shahade (July 2002), Sheikh Ahmed Yassin (March 2004), Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi (April 2004) and Adnan al-Ghoul (October 2004). While the term "targeted killing" is mostly used within the context of the Al-Aqsa Intifada by airborne attacks, Israeli security forces have reportedly assassinated top Palestinians in the past, although this was never confirmed officially.

Some of the best known operations include:

While most assassinations throughout the course of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were carried out by the IDF against Palestinian leaders of what Israel claims are terror factions, Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi was assassinated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a militant group listed as a terror organization by the U.S. and the EU.

[edit] Effectiveness of Palestinian attacks and the Israeli response

Strong damage caused by Palestinian attacks. Palestinian attacks against Israel have been costly for the Jewish state. IDF reports show that from the start of the Second Intifada (in 2000) to the Year 2005, Palestinians killed 1,074 Israelis and wounded 7,520. These are serious figures for such a small country, roughly equivalent to 50,000 dead and 300,000 wounded in the United States over five years. Such losses generated immense public pressure from the Israeli public for a forceful response, and ramped up targeted killings were one such outcome.<ref>"Do targeted killings work?", Daniel Byman, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2006, Volume 85, Number 2, p. 95-112 </ref>

Hit policy reduces effectiveness of attacks. But while Palestinian operations caused strong damage, there is also some evidence that the IDF reprisal assassination policy has been salutory in reducing the effectiveness of such attacks. As regards Hamas for example, Israeli deaths dropped as assassination targets were liquidated, from a high of 75 in 2001, to 21 in 2005. Raw attack figures seem to contradict this result, for Hamas attacks increased between 2001 and 2005. Nevertheless, even as the total number of Hamas operations climbed, deaths resulting from such attacks plunged, suggesting that the effectiveness of such attacks continually weakened. <ref>Byman, op. cit.</ref>

Reasons hits may be effective versus other intervening factors. There are several practical reasons why calculated hits may weaken the effectiveness of terrorist activities. Targeted killings physically eliminate skilled terrorists, bomb makers, forgers, recruiters and other operatives, who need time to develop expertise. Targeted hits also disrupt the opponent's infrastructure and organization, and cause immense stress on individual leaders and fighters, who must constantly move, switch locations and hide. This reduces the flow of information in the terrorist organization and reduces its effectiveness. Assassinations may also serve as a demoralizing agent. Targeted individuals cannot visit their wives, children, relatives or families without severe risk, and may even shirk their names coming out in public for fear of liquidation. Israeli killings of Hamas leaders Yassin and Rantisi for example, caused Hamas to not publicly identify their replacement, a necessary step to secure his survival.

Continual diplomatic pressure against the Israeli policy, and the announcement of periodic unilateral cease fires at various times by Hamas, are seen by some as further proof of the policy's efficacy. Some observers however, argue that other factors are at play besides the hit policy, including improved intelligence gathering leading to more arrests, and the construction of the Israeli security fence which has made it more difficult for terrorist operatives to infiltrate. <ref>Byman, op. cit.</ref>

[edit] United States

In 1943, the United States military used knowledge from decoded transmissions to carry out a targeted killing of the Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.<ref>Manchester, William. "American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur 1880-1964" p. 369.</ref>

During the Cold War, the United States attempted several times to assassinate Cuban President Fidel Castro.<ref>Cuba: Assassination Attempts Global</ref>

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan issued Executive Order 12333, which codified a policy first laid down in 1976 by the Ford administration. It stated, "No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination."

In 1986, the American air strikes against Libya included an attack on the barracks where Muammar Qaddafi was known to be sleeping. It was claimed that the attack resulted in the death of Qaddafi's infant daughter but reporter Barbara Slavin of USA Today who was in Libya at the time, set the record straight. "His adopted daughter was not killed," she said. "An infant girl was killed. I actually saw her body. She was adopted posthumously by Gadhafi. She was not related to Gadhafi."<ref> Template:Cite web</ref>

During the 1991 Gulf War, the United States struck many of Iraq’s most important command bunkers with bunker-busting bombs in hopes of killing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.[citation needed]

Since the rise of al-Qaeda, both the Clinton and Bush administrations have backed "targeted killings." In 1998, in retaliation for the al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa, the Clinton administration launched cruise missiles against a training camp in Afghanistan where bin Laden had been hours before. Reportedly, the United States nearly killed the leader of Taliban, Mullah Omar, with a Predator-launched Hellfire missile on the first night of Operation Enduring Freedom. In May 2002, the CIA launched a Hellfire missile from a Predator drone in an effort to kill the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.[citation needed]

On November 3, 2002, a US Central Intelligence Agency-operated MQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) fired a Hellfire missile that destroyed a car carrying six suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The target of the attack was Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, the top al-Qaeda operative in Yemen. Among those killed in the attack was a US citizen, Yemeni-American Ahmed Hijazi.[citation needed]

According to Bush administration, the killing of an American in this fashion was legal. "I can assure you that no constitutional questions are raised here. There are authorities that the president can give to officials. He's well within the balance of accepted practice and the letter of his constitutional authority," said Condoleezza Rice, the US national security adviser.<ref>U.S. Can Target American al-Qaida Agents By JOHN J. LUMPKIN. December 3, 2002</ref><ref>US drones take combat role By Keith Somerville (BBC). November 5, 2002</ref>

During the press-conference, the US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that Washington's reasons for opposing the targeted killings of Palestinians might not apply in other circumstances and denied allegation that by staging the Yemen operation the US may be using double standards towards Israeli policy: "We all understand the situation with regard to Israeli-Palestinian issues and the prospects of peace and the prospects of negotiation... and of the need to create an atmosphere for progress... A lot of different things come into play there... Our policy on targeted killings in the Israeli-Palestinian context has not changed."<ref>US 'Still Opposes' Targeted Killings (BBC) November 6, 2002</ref>

On December 3, 2005, the US was blamed for another incident, in which alleged al-Qaeda #3 man (operations chief Abu Hamza Rabia) was reportedly killed in Pakistan by an airborne missile, together with four associates. However, Pakistani officials claim the group was killed while preparing explosives, not from any targeted military operation.,<ref>Al Qaeda No. 3 dead, but how? (CNN) December 3, 2005</ref><ref>Blast 'kills al-Qaeda commander' (BBC) December 3, 2005</ref> The US has made no official comment about the incident.

On January 13, 2006 US CIA-operated unmanned Predator drones launched four Hellfire missiles into the Pakistani village of Damadola, about 7 km (4.5 miles) from the Afghan border, killing at least 18 people. The attack targeted Ayman al-Zawahiri who was thought to be in the village. Pakistani officials later said that al-Zawahiri was not there and that the U.S. had acted on faulty intelligence.<ref>18 civilians killed by air-strikes in Bajaur area of NW Pakistan (Pakistan Times)</ref>

On June 7, 2006, US Forces dropped one laser-guided bomb and one GPS-guided bomb on a safehouse north of Baqubah, Iraq, where Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was believed to be meeting with several aides. His death was confirmed the next day.

See War on Terrorism

[edit] Russia

Russia employed similar strategy in the course of its Chechen Wars, targeting the leaders of separatist movement. Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev was killed by an air strike of Russian Air Force on April 21, 1996 and Aslan Maskhadov was killed on March 8, 2005. On July 10, 2006, Shamil Basayev, the Chechen rebel, was killed in an explosion -- though it is unclear if this was an accident in the handling of explosives, or a targeted Russian attack.

"When terrorists feel they are literally being trailed, fighting groups are systematically being detained, when in fact a top leader is eliminated, this creates an atmosphere in which there’s no place for terrorist attacks,” said Vladimir Vasilyev, head of the security committee of the lower house of the Russian State Duma.<ref>Russia Faces Implications of Maskhadov’s Killing (MosNews) March 10, 2005</ref>

[edit] Assassination for money

Individually, too, people have often found reasons to arrange the deaths of others through paid intermediaries. One who kills with no political motive or group loyalty who kills only for money is known as a hitman or contract killer. Note that by the definition accepted above, while such a killer is not, strictly speaking, an assassin, if the killing is ordered and financed towards a political end, then that killing must rightly be termed an assassination, and the hitman an assassin by extension.

Entire organizations have sometimes specialized in assassination as one of their services, to be gained for the right price. Besides the original hashshashin, the ninja clans of Japan were rumored to perform assassinations — though it can be pointed out that most of what was ever known about the ninja was rumor and hearsay. In the United States, Murder, Inc., an organization partnered to the Mafia, was formed for the sole purpose of performing assassinations for organized crime. In Russia, the vory (thieves), their version of the Mafia, are often known to provide assassinations for the right price, as well as engaging in it themselves for their own purposes. A professional hitman is called kliner (literally "cleaner") in Russia; he is used to clean away the target. The Finnish underworld uses the word "torpedo" for a contract killer.

[edit] Assassination as military doctrine

While assassination for military purposes has long been espoused — Sun Tzu argued for such in The Art of War, as did Machiavelli in his The Prince — in medieval times, an army and even a nation might be based upon and around a particularly strong, canny or charismatic leader, whose loss could paralyze the ability of both to make war. However, in modern warfare a soldier's mindset is generally considered to surround ideals far more than specific leaders. Theoretically, while the death of a soldier's leader definitely has a detrimental effect on morale, the cause for which they fight is at times strong enough to push through the loss of leadership.

It can be argued that, assassinating a military leader may run the risk of eliminating a later advocate of peace. As many would argue that military leaders, seeing the face of warfare and bearing a clearer sense of the war effort's effects, have more sagacity on the subject. There is the risk that the target may be an incompetent and could be replaced by a more competent leader. Not only that, but worse, there is a high chance such a killing will be treated as not only reinforcing evidence of the opponents' moral bankruptcy, but also "martyr" the leader, increasing their charisma posthumously and rallying still others to an enemy cause and hardening the enemies' resolve to fight — and resist entreaties to peace (indeed, the death in battle of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, while not an assassination, led directly to the Roman Catholic defeat at Lützen as the infuriated Swedes rallied behind their fallen leader). Such an effect can be extremely detrimental to a group or state, but supporters might argue in return that when faced with a particularly brilliant leader, there is no choice but to take the chance and, essentially, hope for a more mediocre successor (one might use the example of the many attempts to kill the Athenian Alcibiades during the Peloponnesian War, the American shooting down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during World War II, or arguably Henry IV of France). Also, they might note that in a time-sensitive situation, such a killing could be useful if only to briefly buy time for a more permanent and effective plan to be set into motion or stall an army as reinforcements rush to the area. Another situation where assassination might have been beneficial, would have been the early assassination of Osama Bin Laden, which might have saved thousands of lives from the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.

There are a number of examples from World War II, the last total war, which show how assassination can be used as an effective military tool both at a tactical and strategic level. The American's perception that Skorzeny's commandos were trying to assassinate Eisenhower during the Battle of the Bulge shows that military assassination, or the threat of it, if well timed can be a very effective tactical move. In an interview with the New York Times Skorzeny denied that he had ever intended to assassinate Eisenhower and could prove it. (page 155, Commando Extraordinary, by Charles Foley). There is also a mention in the same book (Page 35) of a British commando raid to "capture" German General Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel (also known as "The Desert Fox"). If he had been removed from the board, then that might well have had strategic effects. The British, too, decided not to try to assassinate Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of the Abwehr (German military intelligence), because to do so might have improved the service.

[edit] Assassination as a tool used by insurgent groups

Insurgent groups have often employed assassination as a tool to further their causes. The Irish Republican Army guerrillas of 1919-1921 assassinated many RIC Police Intelligence officers during the Irish War of Independence. Michael Collins set up a special unit -- the Squad -- for this purpose, which had the effect of intimidating many policemen into resigning from the force. "The Squad"'s activities peaked with the assassination of 14 British agents in Dublin on Bloody Sunday (1920).

This tactic was used again by the Provisional IRA during the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969-present). Assassination of RUC officers and politicians was one of a number of methods used in the Provisional IRA campaign 1969-1997. The IRA also attempted to assassinate British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by bombing the Conservative Party Conference in a Brighton hotel. Loyalist paramilitaries retaliated by assassinating Catholics at random and Irish nationalist politicians.

Basque separatists ETA in Spain have assassinated many security and political figures since the late 1960s, notably Luis Carrero Blanco in 1973. Since the early 1990s, they have also targeted academics, journalists and local politicians who publicly disagreed with them, for assassination -- meaning that many of them needed armed police bodyguards.

The Red Brigades in Italy carried out assassinations of political figures, as to a lesser extent, did the Red Army Faction in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. Middle Eastern groups, such as the PLO and Hezbollah, have all engaged in assassinations, though the higher intensity of armed conflict in the region compared to western Europe means that many of their actions are either better characterised as guerrilla operations or as random attacks on civilians -- especially the technique of suicide bombs.

In the Vietnam War, assassinations were routinely carried out by communist insurgents against government officials and private individuals deemed to offend or rival the revolutionary movement. Such attacks, along with widespread military activity by insurgent bands, almost brought the Diem regime to collapse, prior to the US intervention. <ref>Viet Cong, by Douglas Pike</ref>

[edit] Techniques

Assassinations are the result of planning and preparation to create opportunity and then the application of chosen means. It is certain that the first strategies used were direct and simple: find the leader and stab, strangle, suffocate, defenestrate, decapitate, rend, drown, or bludgeon them to death. The first assassins may have used flint. This would have occurred only in close-knit groups where security was not thought needed, such as amongst nomadic or early sedentary peoples in Mesopotamia where disagreements would be solved with vigilantism (i.e. 'mesopotamocide' -- however it is important to note that information from this far back is very sketchy and debatable in nature). As civilization took root, however, many leaders began to have greater importance, and they would become more detached from the groups they ruled. This would have bought planning, weapons attached to long sticks, and subterfuge as major factors in successful assassination.

The key technique was infiltration, either physical concealment and stealthy movement or the attempt to gain access to a person's guard or staff with the aim of replacing or subverting them. The actual assassination would be the same close-contact stabbing, quieter smothering or strangulation, poisons and poisonous creatures were also used, and disembowelment was also relished. The mushroom death cap has been the traditional choice of assassins:[citation needed] it cannot be distinguished as poisonous by taste, and the symptoms of the poisoning show out only after some days or a week.

With the advent of effective ranged weaponry, and later firearms, the position of an assassination target was more precarious. Bodyguards were no longer enough to hold back determined killers, who no longer needed to directly engage or even subvert the guard to kill the leader in question; it could be done from a great distance in a crowded square or even at a church, as with the Pazzi Conspiracy, for example. Additionally the engagement of targets at greater distance dramatically increasing the chances for survival of an assassin. Gunpowder and other explosives also allowed the use of bombs or even greater concentrations of explosives for deeds requiring a larger touch; for an example, the Gunpowder Plot could have 'assassinated' almost a thousand people.

It is interesting to note that even as more modern methods of killing became available, older ones were still encountered; indeed, in nations like India killings by knife or sword remain quite popular, as they do in sub-Saharan Africa (for example, with the machete). In fact, since the development of firearms each region of the world seems to have its preferred methods of contract murder; besides those mentioned, explosives are quite popular in not only the Middle East but in most of Europe as well, save Northern Europe where shootings become more common, whereas in the Americas assassinations are almost exclusively performed by gunshot. One can make various cases for any of these, including range, detectability, concealability, likelihood of kill, etc.

As the Renaissance gave way to the Industrial Revolution, assassination became more sophisticated, right up to today. There are only eight main methods - hand, edged weapon, poison, bomb, close-range shot, long-range shot, use of heavy weapons, and the, as yet untried, use of weapons of mass destruction.

Explosives, especially the car bomb, have become far more common, with grenades and remote-triggered landmines also used, especially in the Middle East and Balkans (the initial attempt on Archduke Franz Ferdinand's life was with a grenade). With heavy weapons, the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) has became a useful tool given the popularity of armored cars (discussed below), while Israeli forces have pioneered the use of aircraft-mounted missiles for assassination, as well as the innovative use of explosive devices.

One option glamorized in the media is using a sniper rifle, such as the L96. The problem with this method is that a sniper rifle is difficult to obtain, train with, conspicuous in size and therefore difficult to conceal and transport. Ownership also attracts the attention of police and government authorities. Despite its notorious disadvantages a more common tool is the handgun.

A recent case in the UK concerned the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko who was given a lethal dose of radioactive polonium-210, possibly passed to him in aerosol form sprayed directly onto his food. Litvinenko, a former Soviet spy, was granted asylum in the UK in 2000 after complaining of persecution in Russia, and shortly before his death he issued a statement accusing Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, of involvement in the assassination plot. President Putin denied any involvement.

Assassination by means of "accidental" death. This is when the target is killed in such a way that the MD can only come to one decision, accidental death for example slipping and drowning in a bathtub and other means of misdirection regarding manner of death.

[edit] Suicide

Assassination can also imitate suicide. If the hit is thought out correctly and the assassin is skilled enough to prepare for all possible out comes, he/she can make a murder look like a suicide. For example: If a Handgun was used, it can be deployed correctly by leaving the mark's hand at the correct angle to complete the suicide illusion. Pushing someone from a great height can also have the same effect, a mark being thrown off a balcony can be posed as a "jumper" situation.

[edit] Counter-measures

It would not be a large stretch to say that, in addition to terrorism, political assassination is one of the biggest threats to any modern state and its government. As such, the measures to which a leader goes to avoid professional killers ranges from what an average person would consider to be farcical to the paranoid to the downright bizarre. Many would argue, though, that such measures are a lot more effective than they first appear, and that in the world of a new threat seemingly each week [citation needed], there is no such thing as too much security.

One of the earliest forms of defense against assassins is without doubt the bodyguard. Essentially, the bodyguard functions as a counter-assassin, attempting to neutralize the killer before they can make contact with or inflict harm upon the "principal", or protected/targeted official. This function was often executed by the leader's most loyal warriors, and was extremely effective throughout most of early human history, to the point where a direct assassination had to be replaced with carefully-planned subterfuge, such as poison (which was answered by the food taster, and even then such methods were often thwarted. Notable examples of bodyguards would include the Roman Praetorian Guard or the Ottoman janissaries — although, in both cases, it should be noted that the protectors often became assassins themselves, exploiting their power to make the head of state a virtual hostage at their whim or eliminating threatening leaders altogether. Indeed, assassinations both then and today are most often effective when they have the support, tacit or open, of other powerful figures. This is less a concern in the West, where organizations such as the British Special Branch and American Secret Service are noted as well-trained and apolitical protective forces--although there is still the slight possibility of infilitration by an assassin. Disloyal protectors continue to be a problem in developing nations, however; Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi met such an end in 1984.

The race was on with the Middle Ages between leaders and assassins as gunpowder became predominant, each in turn trying to develop stronger and better checks against the increasing abilities of the other. One of the first reactions was to simply increase the guard, creating what at times might seem a small army trailing every leader; another was to begin clearing large areas whenever a leader was present, to the point where entire sections of a city might be shut down. Heads of state began to cease taking their armies onto the field personally around this time as well, although this was likely as much due to the increasing skills required for generalship and division of power within the government as it was for safety concerns.

As the 20th century dawned, the prevalence of assassins and their capabilities skyrocketed, and so did measures to protect against them. For the first time, armored cars or armored limousines were put into service for safer transport, with modern versions rendering them virtually invulnerable to small arms fire. Bulletproof vests were also commissioned, though not often used for political reasons. Access to famous persons, too, became more and more restrictive; potential visitors would be forced through dozens of different checks and double-checks before being granted access to the official in question, and as communication became better and information technology more prevalent, it has become next-to-impossible for a would-be killer to get close enough to the personage at work to effect an attempt on his or her life, especially given the common use of metal and bomb detectors. Most modern assassinations have been committed either during a public performance or during transport, both due to weaker security and security lapses, such as with US President John F. Kennedy or as part of coups d'état where security is either overwhelmed or completely removed, such as with Patrice Lumumba and possibly also Salvador Allende.

Some of the wilder and arguably stranger methods used for protection by famous people of both today and yesterday have evoked many reactions from different people, some resenting the separation from their officials or major figures, some comforted by the security and some lamenting the state of society that such measures are necessary. One example might be traveling in a car protected by a bubble of clear bulletproof glass, such as the Popemobile of Pope John Paul II (built following an extremist's attempt at his life). Frederick William I of Prussia had an entire command of soldiers above two meters of height, and would reportedly go to great lengths to obtain more.

Still others go into seclusion, rarely heard from or seen in public afterwards, such as writer Salman Rushdie or eccentric inventor Howard Hughes, though it is more likely that Hughes was concerned about germs than about assassination. A more exotic form of protection is the use of a body double. A body double in this case is a person who is built similar to the person he is expected to protect and made up to look like him. The body double then takes the place of the person in high risk situations. Fidel Castro, Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein are known to have used body doubles.

It is important to note that, in the final analysis, it is thought by many that if a person or group is committed beyond reason or concerns for self-preservation towards the removal of a certain person or leader from not only their position but this plane of existence, then the chances are better than fair that any security measures taken will come to naught. The ninja of Japan and suicide attackers are both groups known for pursuing every avenue for however long necessary to accomplish their 'hit'. Often, such people or groups would operate without concern for their own life in order to gain the slightest chance of eliminating their mark. Certain leaders, notably Abraham Lincoln, were thought to have wrestled with this supposed inevitability during difficult times (with some, like Lincoln's, proving prophetic). In the end it comes down to will - if the will of the would-be assassins to execute their target surpasses that of their security to save them, or the will of the targeted person to survive, then success for a killer may be a matter of time.

[edit] Infamous assassins

[edit] References


[edit] See also

[edit] Related lists

[edit] Further reading

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