Assassination is commonly regarded as premeditated homicide carried out against an important person, usually to achieve a political objective.

The term has also been used to describe the murders of non-politicians, like John Lennon and Admiral Yamamoto. However homicides that are not sudden, deliberate, unexpected or which are carried out in the context of active combat are not considered assassinations (such as the kidnapping and subsequent murder of Quebec Cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte by the FLQ, or William the Conquerer taking it in the eye).

Assassins are often poorly adjusted young males dedicated to a cause, who may operate alone or act as a proxy on behalf of a clandestine group or enemy country wanting to remain behind the scenes and reap the political dividends from the removal of an inconvenient leader. The assassination may be designed to remove somebody from office, to ferment disunity or extremism, or to make good the threat of violence when a leader fails to follow somebody else's dictates. Some assassins simply don’t like their targets or who they represent, or are motivated by revenge for the actions their targets are believed to be responsible for. Other assassins are just stark raving mad.

Some assassinations have served as the pretext for violence or war, such as World War One, Kristallnacht and the Rwandan genocide, when tensions have been building below the surface. In less volatile countries where mature political institutions allow for the smooth succession of leaders, the impact of assassinations have been more benign.

Famous Assassinations (Successful ones)

Since the ides of March history has littered with the bodies of famous potentates who met an untimely fate with a dagger, bullet or Predator drone. Some better known assassinations are listed below:

15 March, 44 BCE: Julius Caesar is stabbed to death by Brutus, Cassius and other Roman senators in Rome, concerned that he was becoming too popular.

21 January, 41: Roman emperor Caligula is slain by his own bodyguard, Cassius Chaerea, an action endorsed by most Romans tired of his sadism and failure to wage successful war against the Germans.

29 December, 1170: Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas A’Beckett, is slain by the swords of knights in the service of King Henry II, who opposed Beckett’s insistance that the Pope appoint bishops in England.

2 August, 1589: French king Henri III is stabbed by monk Jacques Clement, unhappy with his king being a transvestite.

14 May, 1610: French king Henri IV (King Henri III’s successor) is stabbed by a fanatic Roman Catholic, François Ravaillac in Paris.

16 March, 1792: Swedish king Gustav III is shot by one of his advisors, Jacob Johan Anckarstrom at a masquerade party in Stockholm. The assassin was part of a conspiracy of aristocrats who didn’t want King Gustav III to rule as an absolute monarch.

14 April, 1865: US President Abraham Lincoln is shot by John Wilkes Booth in Washington DC, dissatisfied with Lincoln’s victory over the Confererate south.

2 July, 1881: US President James A. Garfield is shot by anarchist Charles J. Guiteau in Washington DC.

20 July, 1900: King Umberto I of Italy is shot by Italian-American anarchist Gaetano Bresci in Monza, Italy. Bresci said his action was revenge for the massacre of workers in Milan in 1898.

6 September, 1901: US President William McKinley is shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in Buffalo.

28 July 1914: Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Francis Ferdinand is shot by Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo.

8 September 1935: Louisiana Senator Huey P. Long is shot by Dr. Carl Weiss for reasons unknown in Baton Rouge.

7 November, 1938: Third-secretary of the German Legation in Paris, Ernst vom Rath, is shot by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17 year old Polish-German Jew.

20 August, 1940: Soviet exile Leon Trotsky is bludgeoned to death in Mexico City by Spanish NKVD agent Ramon Mercader.

27 May, 1942: Nazi functionary Reinhard Heidrich is shot by partisans in Czechoslovakia.

18 April, 1943: Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is killed when his transport plane is shot down over New Guinea. US intelligence specifically target Yamamoto as he tours the South Pacific, dispatching aircraft from the US 339th squadron based at Guadalcanal to do the deed.

30 January, 1948: Indian leader Mohandas Ghandi is shot by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Godse.

12 October, 1960: Live on television, the leader of Japan’s Socialist Party Inejiro Asanuma is stabbed to death with a sword by Otoya Yamaguchi in Tokyo. The 17 year old assassin has links to right wing ultra-nationalists.

22 November, 1963: US President John F. Kennedy is shot by Lee Harvey Oswald for reasons never fully acknowledged in Dallas.

4 April, 1964: US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. is shot by James Earl Ray in Memphis.

21 February, 1965: US civil rights leader Malcolm X is shot by rival Talmadge Hayer and three accomplices in New York.

5 June, 1968: US Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy is shot by Palestianian activist Sirhan Bishara Sirhan in Los Angeles.

11 September, 1973: President of Chile Salvador Allende is believed to have been shot by soldiers carrying out a coup led by General Augusto Pinochet.

27 May, 1978: Mayor of San Fransisco George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk (the first openly gay politician in the United States) are shot by a clinically depressed former supervisor, Danny White.

27 August, 1979: Lord Louis Mountbatten is blown up by an IRA bomb planted on his boat moored off Mullaghmore in Ireland.

26 October, 1979: South Korean President Park Chung-Hee is shot by Korean Central Intelligence Agency chief Kim Jae-Kyu, just as his President was about to order the military to shoot on protesters.

8 December, 1980: Former Beatle John Lennon is shot by crazed fan Mark David Chapman in New York.

6 October, 1981: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat is shot by several Islamic militants during a military parade in Cairo.

21 August, 1983: Philippine politician Benigno Aquino is shot by agents of dictator Ferdinand Marcos upon his arrival at Manila airport.

31 October, 1984: Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi is shot by two of her own bodyguards in New Delhi. Both bodyguards were Sikhs who were motivated by Ghandi’s crackdown on Sikh militants.

28 February, 1986: Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme is shot by an unknown assailant.

9 August, 1988: Pakistan President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq is killed when a bomb explodes in a plane he and thirty others are traveling in over Bahawalpu in Pakistan. It was believed to have been planted by senior military officers opposed to Zia’s appeasement with the United States.

21 May, 1991: Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi (son of Indira Ghandi) is killed by a suicide bomber with links to the LTTE in Madras.

6 April, 1994: President of Rwanda Juvenal Habyarimana and President of Burundi Cyprien Ntaryamira are killed when a SAM missile, fired by Hutu extremists destroys the helicopter as it was landing in Kigali, Rwanda.

4 November, 1995: Israeli President Yitzhak Rabin is shot by Yigal Amir, a law student who is against the Middle East peace process, in Tel Aviv.

9 September, 2001: Leader of Afghanistan's Northern Alliance General Ahmed Shah Massoud is killed by two men (possibly al-Qaeda or Pakistani intelligence agents) posing as Morroccan journalists.

6 May, 2002: Dutch politician Pym Fortuyn is shot by animal-rights activist Volkert van der Graaf in Amsterdam.

12 March, 2003 Serbian reformist Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is shot in Belgrade by unknown assailants, likely to be associated with a mafia syndicate.

19 August, 2003: United Nations Administrator Sergio Vieira de Mello, and twenty three other victims, are killed in an explosion detonated outside his Baghdad office by Iraqi militants.

29 August, 2003: Shiite moderate leader Ayatollah Mohammed Baqer al-Hakim is killed in a bomb blast in the Iraqi city of Najif, possibly planted by rival Shia leaders, Saddam Hussein loyalists or al-Qaeda.

11 September, 2003: Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh is stabbed to death at a Stockholm department store. The assassin, a young, mentally ill Serb called Mijailo Mijailovic, was apparently angry at her government’s support of US actions against Yugoslavia.

20 November. 2003: The British Consul-General in Istanbul is killed alongside 27 other victims in a bomb blast. The bomb is believed to have been planted by a Turkish Islamist group with links to al-Qaeda.

13 February. 2004: Former Chechnyan separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev is killed in a car bomb explosion in the Qatari capital of Doha, believed to have been planted by Russian secret agents.

2 November, 2004: Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh is shot and stabbed by Islamic militant Mohammad Boyeri in Amsterdam.

Famous Assassinations (Unsuccessful ones)

Famous survivors of assassination attempts include:

  • British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
  • Cuban President Fidel Castro
  • Czar Alexander II of Russia
  • Adolf Hitler
  • US politician George Wallace
  • US Secretary for Defence Robert McNamara
  • Afghan President Hamid Kharzai
  • Osama Bin Laden
  • Iraqi President Saddam Hussein
  • former Beatle George Harrison
  • Pope John Paul II
  • Mao Tse Tung
  • several US Presidents, including: Andrew Jackson, William H. Steward, Theordore Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H. Bush and Bill Clinton.

    Famous Assassination Conspiracies

    Some people can never be satisfied that even famous people die of ordinary causes like heart attacks, car accidents and drug overdoses.

  • Lady Diana Spencer Princess of Wales
  • Singer Bob Marley
  • North Korean Great Leader Kim Il Sung
  • Actress Marilyn Monroe
  • Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt
  • Pope John Paul I
  • Pope Pius VIII
  • Phar Lap (ok, he was a racehorse)
  • Joseph Stalin
  • Dag Hammarskjöld
  • Chinese Defence Minister Lin Biao