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An assassination attempt is an act of violence aimed at killing or injuring a person or a group. In most cases, the attack is politically , ideologically or religiously motivated, in some cases there are also economic interests or a psychological disorder behind an act. The assassination attempt is often associated with high-profile accompanying circumstances (public crime scene, outstanding personality, confession), which are intended to give emphasis and public awareness to the assassin's concern. With a few exceptions, which, like tyrannicide, can be ethically and legally justified, assassinations resulting in death are generally regarded as murder and their execution as assassination .

Politically motivated attacks on prominent victims in particular can have far-reaching consequences. The assassination of Julius Caesar resulted in a civil war, and the assassination attempt in Sarajevo sparked the First World War. The fatal assassination attempt on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin in 1995 brought the Middle East peace process to a standstill. Assassinations can also have a traumatizing effect on societies, such as the murders of Abraham Lincoln , John F. Kennedy , Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the USA, as well as of Gandhi in India and Olof Palme in Sweden. Attempts that do not achieve their goal, such as the assassination attempt of July 20, 1944 on Adolf Hitler including an attempted coup, can also have significant consequences.


Assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln at the Ford Theater Washington, 1865

The original meaning of assassination is "attempted crime" (from Latin attentatum "the attempted"). The aim of the attack is usually to kill or injure a high-ranking person or several people. In addition to conventional weapons, assassins use a number of alternative means of attack (such as poison , letter bombs , car bombs ). The action is carried out by an individual or a small group and is usually demonstratively directed against an influential power. Assassinations can also be tools of terrorism .

The perpetrator or planner of the act and the perpetrator do not necessarily have to be the same person. For example, politically motivated assassinations are known that were carried out by contract killers or secret service employees, such as the murders by members of the Yugoslav secret service UDBA by opponents of the regime or the fatal attack by the Bulgarian secret service on a dissident in London in 1978 (see umbrella attack ). Among other things, some failed attacks by the American foreign intelligence service CIA on the Cuban head of state Fidel Castro are known (see Operation Mongoose ).

If a group of offenders commits an attack, it is referred to as a group attack, otherwise it is an individual attack . The criminologist Hans Langemann developed the further distinction between a final attack , with which an attack comes to an end, and the initial attack , with which a sequence of further events is started or which is intended to trigger them, for example a coup d'état or a revolution .

The word attack is used with the same meaning as assassination , but it has a wider range of meanings. It can also refer to damage to or destruction of objects and processes (e.g. acts of sabotage ) or damage to assets (e.g. “an attack on the freedom of the press”). An assassination attempt, on the other hand, is always directed against people and usually aims at killing. However, the so-called acid attacks are an exception: in a typical acid attack, the goal is not to kill the victim, but to cause bodily harm. In addition, the willful destruction of paintings or other works of art by acids is referred to as an “acid attack”, although this is damage to property.


A distinction must be made between the execution of political opponents and assassinations: The execution of political opponents can be viewed as political murder . But if it is initiated by state organs (order of the death penalty ), this gives the process at least a superficial or pseudo-legality . An assassination attempt, on the other hand, is generally regarded as an illegal act.

The only exception here is the right of resistance , which in individual constitutions grants citizens the right to oppose even violent resistance in the fight against dictatorial rule . The right of resistance anchored in the Basic Law ( Article 20, Paragraph 4 of the Basic Law) does not exclude tyrannicide as the last means of resistance against a dictator . In this case, the killing of a political leader would not fall under the criminal offense of murder , but would be legalized.

Target personalities

The target of an attack is a decision maker or a representative, usually a person of high political, religious or social rank, not a private person. The circle of prominent public figures includes, for example, heads of state , members of government, judges , high-ranking military officials, but also journalists or business leaders if they play a special role in politics. Local officials such as mayors and police chiefs are also prominent figures. In addition, leaders of political parties, large trade unions , social and religious organizations, leaders of minorities , writers and other prominent members of important social institutions are among the public and therefore at risk.

Known assassinations (selection)

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Assassination  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Assassination  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Duden online: Assassination attempt
  2. OLG Munich, judgment of 3 August 2016 - 7 St 5/14 (2): Killing of a critic of the regime for low motives.
  3. Anita Snow: CIA Plot to Kill Castro Detailed. Washington Post , June 27, 2007.
  4. Alexander Elster, Rudolf Sieverts, Heinrich Lingemann, Hans Joachim Schneider (eds.): Concise dictionary of criminology. Volume 4. Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 1979, ISBN 978-3-11008-093-3 , p. 157.