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Assassination is the murder of a prominent or important person, such as a head of state, head of government, politician, world leader, member of a royal family or CEO. The murder of a celebrity, activist, or artist, though they may not have a direct role in matters of the state, may also sometimes be considered an assassination. An assassination may be prompted by political and military motives, or 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. A person who carries out an assassination is called an assassin or hitman.
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 (1605).
The Egyptian pharaoh Teti is thought to be the earliest known victim of assassination. Between 550 BC and 330 BC, seven Persian kings of Achaemenid Dynasty were murdered. The Art of War, a 5th century BC Chinese military treatise mentions tactics of Assassination and its merits.
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.
Some famous assassination victims are Philip II of Macedon (336 BC), the father of Alexander the Great, and Roman dictator Julius Caesar (44 BC). Emperors of Rome often met their end in this way, as did many of the Muslim Shia Imams hundreds of years later. Three successive Rashidun caliphs (Umar, Uthman Ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib) were assassinated in early civil conflicts between Muslims. 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.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, international lawyers began to voice condemnation of assassinations of leaders. Balthazar Ayala has been described as "the first prominent jurist to condemn the use of assassination in foreign policy". Alberico Gentili condemned assassinations in a 1598 publication where he appealed to the self-interest of leaders: (i) assassinations had adverse short-term consequences by arousing the ire of the assassinated leader's successor, and (ii) assassinations had the adverse long-term consequences of causing disorder and chaos. Hugo Grotius's works on the law of war strictly forbade assassinations, arguing that killing was only permissible on the battlefield. 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 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.
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 nationalist, is blamed for igniting World War I. 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.
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 (POUM) 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 (now the National Civil Rights Museum) in Memphis, Tennessee. Three years prior, another African-American civil rights activist, Malcolm X, was assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965.
Most major powers repudiated Cold War assassination tactics, but many allege that was merely a smokescreen for political benefit and that covert and illegal training of assassins continues today, with Russia, Israel, the U.S., Argentina, Paraguay, Chile, and other nations accused of engaging in such operations. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the new Islamic government of Iran began an international campaign of assassination that lasted into the 1990s. At least 162 killings in 19 countries have been linked to the senior leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The campaign came to an end after the Mykonos restaurant assassinations because a German court publicly implicated senior members of the government and issued arrest warrants for Ali Fallahian, the head of Iranian intelligence. Evidence indicates that Fallahian's personal involvement and individual responsibility for the murders were far more pervasive than his current indictment record represents.
In India, Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi and her son Rajiv Gandhi (neither of whom was related to Mahatma Gandhi, who had himself been assassinated in 1948), were assassinated in 1984 and 1991 in what were linked to separatist movements in Punjab and northern Sri Lanka, respectively.
In Israel, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, by Yigal Amir, who opposed the Oslo Accords. In Lebanon, the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, prompted an investigation by the United Nations. The suggestion in the resulting Mehlis report that there was involvement by Syria prompted the Cedar Revolution, which drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon.
Assassination for military purposes has long been espoused: Sun Tzu, writing around 500 BC, argued in favor of using assassination in his book The Art of War. Nearly 2000 years later, in his book The Prince, Machiavelli also advises rulers to assassinate enemies whenever possible to prevent them from posing a threat. 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.
For similar and additional reasons, assassination has also sometimes been used in the conduct of foreign policy. The costs and benefits of such actions are difficult to compute. It may not be clear whether the assassinated leader gets replaced with a more or less competent successor, whether the assassination provokes ire in the state in question, whether the assassination leads to souring domestic public opinion, and whether the assassination provokes condemnation from third-parties. One study found that perceptual biases held by leaders often negatively affect decision making in that area, and decisions to go forward with assassinations often reflect the vague hope that any successor might be better.
In both military and foreign policy assassinations, there is the risk that the target could be replaced by an even more competent leader, or that such a killing (or a failed attempt) will prompt the masses to contemn the killers and support the leader's cause more strongly. Faced with particularly brilliant leaders, that possibility has in various instances been risked, such as in the attempts to kill the Athenian Alcibiades during the Peloponnesian War. A number of additional examples from World War II show how assassination was used as a tool:
Insurgent groups have often employed assassination as a tool to further their causes. Assassinations provide several functions for such groups: the removal of specific enemies and as propaganda tools to focus the attention of media and politics on their cause.
Basque separatists ETA in Spain assassinated many security and political figures since the late 1960s, notably the president of the government of Spain, Luis Carrero Blanco, 1st Duke of Carrero-Blanco Grandee of Spain, in 1973. In the early 1990s, it also began to target academics, journalists and local politicians who publicly disagreed with it.
In the Vietnam War, communist insurgents routinely assassinated government officials and individual civilians deemed to offend or rival the revolutionary movement. Such attacks, along with widespread military activity by insurgent bands, almost brought the Ngo Dinh Diem regime to collapse before the US intervened.
A major study about assassination attempts in the US in the second half of the 20th century came to the conclusion that most prospective assassins spend copious amounts of time planning and preparing for their attempts. Assassinations are thus rarely "impulsive" actions.
However, about 25% of the actual attackers were found to be delusional, a figure that rose to 60% with "near-lethal approachers" (people apprehended before reaching their targets). That shows that while mental instability plays a role in many modern assassinations, the more delusional attackers are less likely to succeed in their attempts. The report also found that around two-thirds of attackers had previously been arrested, not necessarily for related offenses; 44% had a history of serious depression, and 39% had a history of substance abuse. 2b1af7f3a8