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The 15 Most Infamous Assassinations in History The 15 Most Infamous Assassinations in History

The 15 Most Infamous Assassinations in History

by Patrick James, Alicia Capetillo
March 17, 2010

Yesterday was March 15, historically known as the Ides of March, on which, according to the dramatic the likes of Plutarch and Shakespeare, Julius Caesar was overthrown and killed by his frustrated Senate. To commemorate that rather terrible (but undeniably intriguing) occurrence, GOOD looks at the 15 most infamous assassinations in history.

1. Mohandas Gandhi, political and spiritual leader of India, 1948

Assassin: Nathuram Godse

Motive: Godse was angry over India's decision to give 420 million rupees to Pakistan. He believed India had been weakened when Pakistan gained independence.

What happened next: Godse was a Brahmin so in the days following the assassination, massive anti-Brahmin riots took place. The Indian government was harshly criticized for not protecting Gandhi well enough, despite multiple assassination attempts, though Gandhi was known to refuse to cooperate with security

.2. John F. Kennedy, U.S. President, 1963

Assassin: Lee Harvey Oswald

Motive: The Warren Commission failed to assign a specific motive.

What happened next: Conspiracy theories; a general stunned reaction from American citizens, who reported feeling ill and angry; and the murder of brother Robert eight years later by the mentally disturbed anti-Zionist Christian Sirhan Sirhan.

3. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, probable heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, 1914

Assassin: Gavrilo Princip

Motive: Princip was one of seven members of Young Bosnia, a Bosnian Serb terrorist organization; wanted to eliminate Ferdinand and ruling powers to gain independence from Austria-Hungary and to be part Serbia.

What happened next: World War I

4. Julius Caesar, Roman military leader, 44 BC

Assassin: Rome's Senate, led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Junius Brutus

Motive: To overthrow Caesar

What happened next: The end of Roman Republic after middle and lower classes in Rome were so enraged that a group of aristocrats had killed Caesar. This led to another civil war, and eventually Caesar's adopted heir Octavian ascended to Roman Emperor.

5. Abraham Lincoln, U.S. President 1865

Assassin: John Wilkes Booth

Motive: Booth had been a member of the confederacy

What happened next: Attacks in cities against those who showed support for Booth; theater was forced to close.

6. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Civil Rights movement, 1968

Assassin: James Earl Ray

Motive: Ray claimed he was a player in a conspiracy; some of King's family believe the U.S. Government may have been involved in his death

What happened next: Riots in more than 100 cities, though King's legacy inspired people to fight for civil rights.

7. Malcolm X, activist and writer, 1965

Assassin: Talmadge Hayer (Thomas Hagan), Norman 3X Butler, Thomas 15X Johnson

Motive: Malcolm X had defected from the Nation of Islam, and his assassins were agents of the Nation of Islam.

What happened next: Sadness was expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and millions of people around the world; his legacy among activists and radicals continues.

8. John Lennon, Beatles member and activist, 1980

Assassin: Mark David Chapman

Motive: Chapman told his wife he had been obsessed with killing Lennon.

What happened next: At least two Lennon fans committed suicide after the murder; large groups gathered for moments of silence following his death; Strawberry Fields in New York City and memorials all over the world.

9. Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, 336

Assassin: Pausanias, young Macedonian noble, one of Philip's bodyguards

Motive: Some believe Pausanias was raped by Attalus, the king's father-in-law, after Pausanias insulted Attalus' lover (who was Pausanias' ex-lover). Though he was promoted to higher rank, Attalus was not punished and some believe the murder was at least in part fueled by not being granted justice; others believe Olympias and Alexander may have played a part in the assassination.

What happened next: Alexander ascended to the throne and, thanks in large part to Philip's work to bring city-states of Greece under Macedonian hegemony and create a strong kingdom and army, created one of the largest empires in ancient history.

10. Empress Myeongseong, Queen Min of Korea, 1895

Assassin: More than 50 Japanese agents under Miura Goro of the Imperial Japanese Army

Motive: Japan considered her an obstacle to desired overseas expansion as the Empress had a harsh stand against Japanese influence.

What happened next: Fifty-six men were charged in Japan after diplomatic protests and criticism arose abroad; her death played part in formation of some 60 successive righteous armies to fight for Korean freedom.

11. Park Chung-hee, leader of South Korea, 1979

Assassin: Kim Jaegyu, director of the Korea Central Intelligence Agency

Motive: Jaegyu said Park, who had survived two prior assassination attempts, was an obstacle to democracy, acted out of patriotism.

What happened next: Park has a mixed legacy, there are those who praise the industrial and economic growth experienced under his presidency; others see his presidency as wrought with brutality and corruption.

12. King Henry IV, King of France, 1610

Assassin: Francois Ravaillac

Motive: Ravaillac was a Catholic fanatic who didn't trust Henry's conversion from Calvinism to Catholicism. After Henry, who was tolerant of Protestants, decided to invade the Spanish Netherlands, Ravaillac saw this as the start of war against the Pope and decided to stop him before he could start.

What happened next: Henry (sometimes known as "the Great") was popular for his dashing looks and his tolerance, and remained so after his death (see his commemorative statue and book).

13. Nicholas II, the last Czar of Russia, 1918

Assassin: A firing squad under command of Bolshevik officer Yakov Yurovsky (the entire family was killed as part of the Bolshevik Revolution).

Motive: February Revolution; public dissatisfaction with the way the country was being run and their involvement in World War I.

Aftermath: More revolutions followed, eventually leading to a Soviet state; Russia's last Czar and his family would achieve sainthood as martyrs from the Russian Orthodox Church; bodies were finally laid to rest in 1998 in a church with other Russian monarchs.

14. Benazir Bhutto, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, 2007

Assassin: Al-Qaeda commander Mustafa Abu al-Yazid claimed responsibility.

Motive: Yazid called Bhutto "the most precious American asset."

What happened next: Initially there were riots in Pakistan (20 people were killed and many properties were destroyed); international community encouraged Pakistan to continue push for democracy in wake of her death.

15. Commodus, Roman Emperor, 192

Assassin: His wife poisoned his food, but he couldn't keep it down, so Narcisuss, his wrestling partner, strangled him in the bath.

Motive: Commodus was extremely narcissistic. He had stressed his god-like power throughout his reign, erecting statues of himself and, after the city was largely damaged by a fire, renamed Rome after himself. He also changed months of the year to correspond with his twelve names.

What happened next: After his death, the Senate declared him public enemy and restored original names to Rome and institutions; Commodus statues were taken down.

 

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