murder of a prominent person, often a political leader or ruler

Assassination is the murder of an important or popular person, usually, a political leader, like the head of a country or of a political party. Assassinations are usually done for political reasons or for payment.[1] A person who assassinates someone is called an assassin.

Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth
Soviet socialist revolutionary and political theoretician Leon Trotsky was stabbed to death with a ice axe by one of Josef Stalin’s spies, the Spaniard Ramón Mercarder in Coyoacán, Mexico City, 1940.

Throughout history, assassinations have happened for many different reasons. Sometimes, assassinations have been used to take over governments. Other times, assassinations have been used to kill military leaders during wars, or for religious reasons. Some assassins want revenge, or just want to be famous.

Assassinations have happened ever since people started living in group societies.[2]

Painting by Jean-Léon Gérôme showing Caesar's assassination

The Old Testament of the Bible mentions assassinations in the Books of Judith, Kings, Samuel and Chronicles.[3]

An ancient Indian writer, Chanakya, who lived from about 350 to 283 BC, wrote much about assassinations in a book called Arthashastra. One of his students later assassinated some of his enemies, including two of Alexander the Great's generals.[4]

Famous victims of assassinations include Philip II of Macedon (336 BC), who was Alexander's father, and Julius Caesar (44 BC). There is evidence that Alexander was assassinated by poisoning. Several emperors of the Roman Empire were assassinated so that a different leader could take their place.[5]

In the Middle Ages, many emperors in the Byzntine Empire were murdered so that new emperors could take power.[6]

In the 12th and the 13th centuries, the Shia Order of Assassins in Persia and Syria fought their Sunni and Christian enemies by killing their leaders. That is when the term "assassination" started.

During the Renaissance, assassinations happened in Western Europe. Kings William the Silent of the Netherlands (1584),[7] Henry III of France (1589),[8] and Henry IV of France (1610)[9] were all assassinated.

An early use of state assassination in the area which later became the United States, happened in 1620. It happened in Plymouth in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, where the Pilgrims had landed. Native Americans already lived there, but the Pilgrims wanted the land to themselves. Myles Standish invited a local Native American tribal chief, the chief's 18-year-old brother, and two other Native Americans to a feast. They locked the door, killed the three older men and hanged the teenager in public as a warning to the other Native Americans to stay away.[5]

In modern history

Photo of U.S. President John F. Kennedy just before he was assassinated

Assassinations have been common in modern history. This section does not list every assassination that has happened in modern history. It lists some examples of world leaders who were assassinated, and explains some of the reasons why these assassinations happened.

In Imperial Russia, two emperors were assassinated within 80 years: Paul I (1801)[10]pp. 16–17 and Alexander II (1881).[10]p. 419

In the United States, four presidents were assassinated within 100 years. They were Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881), William McKinley (1901), and John F. Kennedy (1963).[11]

After Abraham Lincoln was killed, Andrew Johnson became president for four years. During that time, 12 people who held important political jobs were assassinated.[5] The next president, Ulysses S. Grant, led the United States from 1869 to 1877 During that time, 11 government leaders were assassinated; another 9 were attacked, but survived.[5]

The World Wars


Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in 1914. Some historians say this assassination started World War I.[12]

In the 1930s and 1940s, Joseph Stalin's NKVD assassinated some people outside of the Soviet Union, including Leon Trotsky. They were mostly people who Stalin thought were against him or could take power from him. Stalin wanted to make sure to keep the power he had and so he killed many of his opponents, mostly within the Soviet Union.[13]

Hitler's conference room after some of his own officers tried to kill him

Between 1934 and 1944, different individuals and groups tried 27 different times to assassinate Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust and World War II. Objection to anti-Jewish policy and gaining better terms with the Allies were among the various motives for assassination. None of the attempts were successful.[14][15]

During World War II, the Allies used assassinations to kill important Nazi and Japanese leaders:


People gather at Gandhi's funeral

Some famous human rights activists were also assassinated in the next few decades. They were assassinated by people who did not like the things they were doing to work for human rights. The most famous activists who were assassinated include:[19]

Central Intelligence Agency (1960 – 1970)


Between 1960 and 1965, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) tried at least eight times to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.[20]p. 71 Around this time, the CIA also made plans to assassinate Patrice Lumumba, the only democratically-elected leader of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[20]pp. 19–24

Between 1960 and 1970, the CIA also encouraged and in some cases helped with assassinations of the following:[20]p. 256

The 1970s – 1980s

Indira Gandhi's blood-stained things from the day she was killed (now in a museum)

In 1979, the Iranian Revolution turned Iran into an Islamic Republic. A group called Iran Human Rights Documentation Center says that between 1979 and the 1990s, leaders of the Iranian government had 162 people assassinated, in 19 different countries.[21] The group says Iran stopped the assassinations because a German court put out an arrest warrant for the head of Iranian military intelligence.[22]

Anwar Sadat, the President of Egypt, was assassinated in 1981 at a parade.[23] He was killed by people who wanted to take over the country and make it into an Islamic Republic.[24]

In 1983, Benigno Aquino, Jr. was assassinated. Aquino was against Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator who ruled the Philippines. The people of the Philippines were so upset that they started the non-violent People Power Revolution, which led to the end of Marcos's government. Aquino's widow, Corazon Aquino, became President of the Philippines.[25]

In India, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984.[26] Her son Rajiv Gandhi became the next Prime Minister. He was assassinated in 1991.[27] (They were not related to Mohandas Gandhi.)

The 1990s to today


Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. The Israelis and Palestinians were working on a peace agreement. Rabin was killed by an Orthodox Jew who did not agree with the peace treaty.[28] Many historians think Rabin's murder is one of the main reasons the peace talks fell apart.[2]

In Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in 2007. Bhutto had been the first woman who was ever elected to lead a Muslim country.[29] An Al-Qaeda leader said that Al-Qaeda assassins had killed Bhutto. He said that it did so because Bhutto was trying to get rid of violent Jihadist militia groups in Pakistan. He said this made her important to the United States, so Al-Qaeda killed her.[30]

In the 2020s, President of Haiti Jovenel Moïse was assassinated in 2021 and former Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe was assassinated in 2022.

One research study looked at assassinations of national leaders (leaders of countries, like presidents or prime ministers). The study showed that:[12]

  • Since 1895, assassins have tried to kill national leaders 298 different times. 59 of those world leaders were killed.
  • Since 1950, a national leader has been assassinated in nearly two out of every three years.

Another study looked at all assassinations between 1946 and 2013. It included not just national leaders, but also other members of government (including local governments), and people who were against the government. This study found that between 1946 and 2013, a total of 954 people were assassinated in 758 different attacks.[2]

This study also looked at who was most likely to be assassinated. Of the 954 people who were assassinated:[2]


  1. "What is Assassination?". The Law Dictionary. Black’s Law Dictionary Free 2nd Ed. 4 November 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Perliger, Arie (January 20, 2015). "The Causes and Impact of Political Assassinations". Combating Terrorism Center. United States Military Academy: West Point. Archived from the original on August 29, 2016. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  3. 2 Kings 12:19–21; 2 Samuel 3:26–28 RSV; 2 Chronicles 32:21
  4. Boesche, Roger (January 2003). "Kautilya's Arthaśāstra on War and Diplomacy in Ancient India" (PDF). The Journal of Military History. 67 (1): 9–37. doi:10.1353/jmh.2003.0006. S2CID 154243517.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Sifakis, Carl (December 13, 2013). Encyclopedia of Assassinations: more than 400 infamous attacks that changed the course of history. Skyhorse Publishing. pp. 1–4. ISBN 978-1626363250.
  6. Norwich, John Julius (1998). A Short History of Byzantium. Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin. pp. 294–295. ISBN 978-0-14-025960-5.
  7. The States-General (July 10, 1854). Minutes of the States-General of 10 July 1584 (in Dutch). Quoted in van der Sprinkle, J.W. Berkelbach (1941). De Vader des Vaderlands. Haarlem. p.29.
  8. Durant, Will; Durant, Ariel (1961). The Age of Reason Begins. Simon and Schuster, 1961. p. 361. ISBN 978-1135700072
  9. Miquel, Pierre (1980). Les Guerres de Religion. Paris: Club France Loisirs. p.399. ISBN 2-7242-0785-8
  10. 10.0 10.1 Radzinsky, Edvard (2005). Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar. Free Press. ISBN 978-0743273329
  11. "U.S. presidential assassinations and attempts". Los Angeles Times Online. January 22, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Jones, Benjamin F.; Olken, Benjamin A. (May 2007). Hit or Miss? The Effect of Assassinations on Institutions and War (PDF) (Report). National Bureau of Economic Research. pp. 1–2. Retrieved March 9, 2016.{{cite report}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. Ellman, Michael (2005). "The role of leadership perceptions and of intent in the Soviet Famine of 1931–1934 Archived 2009-02-27 at the Wayback Machine." Europe-Asia Studies 57 (6): 826.
  14. "The July 20, 1944, Plot to Assassinate Adolf Hitler". Retrieved 2024-01-17.
  15. Zentner, Christian; Bedürftig, Friedemann (1991). The Encyclopedia of the Third Reich. New York: Macmillan. pp. 47-48. ISBN 0-02-897502-2
  16. Burian, Michal; Knížek, Aleš; Rajlich, Jiří; Stehlík, Eduard (2002). Assassination: Operation Anthropoid, 1941-1942 (PDF) (Report). Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic. ISBN 80-7278-158-8. Retrieved March 9, 2016.{{cite report}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  17. Grant, Rebecca (March 2006). "Magic and Lightning". Air Force Magazine. 89 (3). Arlington, Virginia: Air Force Association: 62.
  18. Strzembosz, Tomasz (1978) (in Polish). Akcje zbrojne podziemnej Warszawy 1939–1944. Warszawa: Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy. pp. 401-406. ISBN 8306007174.
  19. Douglass, James W. (2012). Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth. Orbis Books. p. ix. ISBN 978-1608331079.
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities (November 20, 1975). Alleged Assassination Plots Involving Foreign Leaders: An Interim Report of the Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, United States Senate (PDF) (Report). United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  21. "No Safe Haven: Iran's Global Assassination Campaign" (PDF). p. 100. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 2, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  22. "Murder at Mykonos: Anatomy of a Political Assassination" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 2, 2010. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  23. Dickovick, J. Tyler (August 9, 2012). Africa 2012. Stryker Post. p. 41. ISBN 978-1-61048-882-2. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  24. Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 49. ISBN 0-375-41486-X.
  25. Skard, Torild (2014). Women of Power: Half a Century of Female Presidents and Prime Ministers Worldwide. Bristol: Policy Press. pp.162-172. ISBN 978-1-44731-578-0
  26. Smith, William E. (November 12, 1984). "Indira Gandhi: Death in the Garden". TIME. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  27. Ahluwalia, Meenakshi (1991). Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Mittal Publications. p. 70. ISBN 9788170993155.
  28. ""I have no regrets": Law student confesses to killing Rabin". CNN World News. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. November 5, 1995. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  29. "Benazir Bhutto killed in attack". BBC News Online. British Broadcasting Corporation. December 27, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  30. "Officials: Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Bhutto killing". CNN. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. December 28, 2007. Retrieved March 9, 2016.