Assassination is the act of deliberately killing a prominent person, such as a head of state or head of government. An assassination may be prompted by political and military motives. It is an act that may be done for financial gain, to avenge a grievance, from a desire to acquire fame or notoriety, or because of a military, security, insurgent or secret police group's command to carry out the assassination. Acts of assassination have been performed since ancient times.
, the de facto ruler of the Seljuq Empire, by an Assassin. Many elites of the empire were assassinated in their conflicts against the Nizaris.
, the individual responsible for the assassination of United States President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Oswald himself was murdered two days later by Jack Ruby, the first such event to receive wide television coverage.
The word assassin is often believed to derive from the word hashshashin, and shares its etymological roots with hashish. It referred to a group of Nizari Ismailis known as the Assassins who worked against various political targets.
Founded by Hassan-i Sabbah, the Assassins were active in the fortress of Alamut in Persia from the 8th to the 14th centuries, and later expanded by capturing forts in Syria. The group killed members of the Abbasid, Seljuk, Fatimid, and Christian Crusader elite for political and religious reasons.
Although it is commonly believed that Assassins were under the influence of hashish during their killings or during their indoctrination, there is debate as to whether these claims have merit, with many Eastern writers and an increasing number of Western academics coming to believe that drug-taking was not the key feature behind the name.
The earliest known use of the verb "to assassinate" in printed English was by Matthew Sutcliffe in A Briefe Replie to a Certaine Odious and Slanderous Libel, Lately Published by a Seditious Jesuite, a pamphlet printed in 1600, five years before it was used in Macbeth by William Shakespeare.
, by Vincenzo Camuccini
Assassination is one of the oldest tools of power politics. It dates back at least as far as recorded history.
In the Old Testament, King Joash of Judah was assassinated by his own servants; Joab assassinated Absalom, King David's son; and King Sennacherib of Assyria was assassinated by his own sons.
Chanakya 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 the Great's generals, Nicanor and Philip. Other famous victims are Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great, and Roman dictator Julius Caesar. Emperors of Rome often met their end in this way, as did many of the Muslim Shia Imams hundreds of years later. The practice was also well known in ancient China, as in Jing Ke's failed assassination of Qin king Ying Zheng in 227 BC. Whilst many assassinations were performed by individuals or small groups, there were also specialized units who used a collective group of people to perform more than one assassination. The earliest were the sicarii in 6 AD, who predated the Middle Eastern assassins and Japanese shinobis by centuries.
In the Middle Ages, regicide was rare in Western Europe, but it was a recurring theme in the Eastern Roman Empire. Strangling in the bathtub was the most commonly used method. With the Renaissance, tyrannicide—or assassination for personal or political reasons—became more common again in Western Europe. High medieval sources mention the assassination of King Demetrius Zvonimir, dying at the hands of his own people, who objected to a proposition by the pope to go on a campaign to aid the Byzantines against the Seljuk Turks. This account is, however, contentious among historians, it being most commonly asserted that he died of natural causes. The myth of the "Curse of King Zvonimir" is based on the legend of his assassination. In 1192, Conrad of Montferrat, the de facto'' King of Jerusalem, was killed by an assassin.
The reigns of King Przemysł II of Poland, William the Silent of the Netherlands, and the French kings Henry III and Henry IV were all ended by assassins.
In the modern world, the killing of important people began to become more than a tool in power struggles between rulers themselves and was also used for political symbolism, such as in the propaganda of the deed. In Russia alone, two emperors, Paul I and his grandson Alexander II, were assassinated within 80 years. In the United Kingdom, only one Prime Minister has been assassinated—Spencer Perceval on May 11, 1812.
In Japan, a group of assassins called the Four Hitokiri of the Bakumatsu killed a number of people, including Ii Naosuke who was the head of administration for the Tokugawa shogunate, during the Boshin War. Most of the assassinations in Japan were committed with bladed weaponry, a trait that was carried on into modern history. A video-record exists of the assassination of Inejiro Asanuma, using a sword.
, Abraham Lincoln, Mary Todd Lincoln, Clara Harris and Henry Rathbone
In the United States, within 100 years, four presidents—Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, William McKinley and John F. Kennedy—died at the hands of assassins. There have been at least 20 known attempts on U.S. presidents' lives. Huey Long, a Senator, was assassinated on September 10, 1935. Robert F. Kennedy, a Senator and a presidential candidate, was also assassinated on June 6, 1968 in the United States.
In Austria, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, carried out by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian national and a member of the Serbian nationalist insurgents, is blamed for igniting World War I after a succession of minor conflicts, while belligerents on both sides in World War II used operatives specifically trained for assassination. Reinhard Heydrich died after an attack by British-trained Czechoslovak soldiers on behalf of the Czechoslovak government in exile in Operation Anthropoid, and knowledge from decoded transmissions allowed the United States to carry out a targeted attack, killing Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto while he was travelling by plane. The Polish Home Army conducted a regular campaign of assassinations against top Nazi German officials in occupied Poland. Adolf Hitler was almost killed by his own officers, and survived various attempts by other persons and organizations.
During the 1930s and 1940s, Joseph Stalin's NKVD carried out numerous assassinations outside of the Soviet Union, such as the killings of Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists leader Yevhen Konovalets, Ignace Poretsky, Fourth International secretary Rudolf Klement, Leon Trotsky, and the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification leadership in Catalonia.
India's "Father of the Nation", Mahatma Gandhi, was shot to death on January 30, 1948 by Nathuram Godse.
The African-American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. Three years prior, another African-American civil rights activist, Malcolm X, was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. Two years prior, another African-American civil rights activist, Medgar Evers, was assassinated on June 12, 1963. Fred Hampton of the Black Panther Party was assassinated on December 4, 1969.