In the modern world, there are very few assassination attempts made against people. This is a simple reality of living in a democratic culture where it is easy to show displeasure in leaders or figures of power. Elections can be used to effectively show how a population no longer wants someone to be head of state in a peaceful manner that does not involve violence. Meanwhile, living in a free society allows for plenty of opportunities to protest and demonstrate against controversial decisions, while things such as the internet give everyone the chance to quickly inform companies or governments how they feel.
These aspects of modern day living mean that the act of assassination has become increasingly rare in recent times. It is no longer the only way to get rid of a despotic leader or for rebel groups to have their voice heard. There are now multiple ways for people to protest in non-violent ways and make effective change without resorting to killing. That was not always the case, though. Throughout history, there have been many assassination plots as groups or individuals went to extremes to get rid of opponents.
Although such attempts will often be carefully planned and involve a simple manner of death, such as a shooting, there have been some rather more outlandish versions. They have become infamous whether they succeeded or not simply because of their sheer stupidity or bizarreness.
15 Reinhard Heydrich
A high-ranking Nazi official and SS chief, Reinhard Heydrich was one of the primary instigators of the Holocaust during World War II. This obviously made him a high-value target for opposition forces and rebels who resisted Nazi rule, putting him at serious risk of assassination. Exactly this came to pass in 1942 during a British-led attack called Operation Anthropoid.
This involved the training of two Czech soldiers. The pair dropped into enemy held territory and set up a machine gun at a part of the road that Heydrich often drove past. When the Nazi official did come by, the gun jammed. Heydrich then confronted the attacks rather than attempting to flee, giving the two soldiers a chance to throw a bomb at him that seriously injured the target, though, not enough to stop him from chasing down one of the attackers who fled on a bicycle. Although the assassination wasn’t immediately successful, Heydrich later died from his wounds several days later.
14 Patrice Lumumba
The CIA has been involved in planning or attempting to carry out a whole host of peculiar assassination attempts during its lifespan. One of the strangest was a plot to kill the Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo Patrice Lumumba in 1960. Lumumba was a threat to stability in the area as his success was likely to lead to other African nations gaining their independence, prompting many Western nations to try to remove him from power.
Agents from the CIA devised a plan that involved poisoning the politician with specially made toothpaste. They manufactured the substance and handed it over to a CIA official in Congo with the instruction to ensure that the toothpaste would make it to Lumumba. Sensing that this plan was too crazy to ever work, the official, Larry Devlin, chose to get rid of the package as soon as possible rather than risk trying to get it to the Congolese leader.
13 Fidel Castro
Throughout the Cold War, Fidel Castro became a huge target for not just the USA, but also Cuban exiles and other opposition forces. This led to more than 600 plots and attempts to end his life being devised over the course of several decades. Chief among those plotting to kill the Cuban leader was the CIA, who came up with hundreds of outlandish ideas.
Some of those assassination plans included disguising explosives as brightly colored mollusk shells to attract Castro when he was scuba diving, lining his diving suit with a lethal fungus, and exploding cigars. The American organization even attempted to poison him with chocolate or a handkerchief that had been infected with a deadly bacteria. None of them came to fruition, but one involving a pill that would poison a milkshake did almost come off – until the pill split in half when it was retrieved by the agent.
12 Khaled Meshal
Khaled Meshal was the target of a 1997 assassination attempt by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for his role in the group Hamas. The plot was carried out under the orders of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though, it did not go as planned.
A number of Israel agents entered Jordan on September 25, 1997, disguised as Canadian tourists with fake passports. They ambushed Meshal at the entrance to his offices in Amman and injected him with a fast-acting poison in his ear. Although they immediately fled, Jordanian police were able to capture and detain the pair of attackers.
The poison failed to kill Meshal instantly, instead, putting him in a coma. This gave Jordan’s King Hussein, time to intervene, demanding that Israel hand over the antidote. The severe political consequences of refusing such a demand eventually led to Netanyahu relenting and ordering the chief of Mossad to fly to Jordan with the antidote, saving Meshal’s life.
11 Theodore Roosevelt
The attempted assassination of Theodore Roosevelt is perhaps most famous not because of the plot but rather as a result of the reaction of the president. While campaigning in Milwaukee, WI, in the run-up to an election, Roosevelt was attacked by John Schrank. The saloon owner shot Roosevelt in the chest after finding him at a hotel.
Rather than rush to the hospital or even stop to evaluate his security arrangements, the politician decided it would be best to carry on as if nothing had happened. His speech, which was 50 pages long, and a metal case for his spectacles were lining his breast pocket and successfully managed to block the bullet before it could cause serious damage. He turned up at a speech a short time later explaining that he had been shot but that it took more than a bullet to kill him.
10 Grigoris Lambrakis
Grigoris Lambrakis was a left-wing politician who posed a major problem for the far right Greek government during the 1960s. Deciding that he was having too much of an influence on the population, to such an extent that he posed a threat of revolution, they came up with a plan to kill him using a pair of extremists.
The plan that these two men came up with was not only inexplicably stupid but also ensured that they would almost certainly be captured. This was because the method of assassination they chose was to simply drive up to Lambrakis during a rally and hit him over the head with a club. Being such a popular speaker, a huge crowd had gathered to hear the left-wing leader speak, meaning that there was plenty of witnesses to the assassination. The crowd confronted the extremists after they had killed Lambrakis, dragged them out of their vehicle, and ensured they were arrested.
9 Ronald Reagan
It isn’t actually the plot to assassinate Ronald Reagan that is crazy but rather the motivation for the president’s attacker, John Hinkley Jr. He had nothing against the statesman and only wanted to kill the politician in order to get the attention of actress Jodie Foster.
Hinkley became obsessed with Foster after watching Taxi Driver. He moved to New Haven to get closer to her and even enrolled in writing classes at Yale University so that he could leave messages for the actress at the place she was studying. When she failed to show him any interest, he resolved to take inspiration from the movie and kill a president.
His initial plan to assassinate President Jimmy Carter failed when he was arrested for possessing an illegal firearm. This prompted him to wait until 1981 when he shot at Reagan and hit him with shrapnel in the chest. Fortunately, the attack was not fatal and Hinkley was arrested and held at a mental institution indefinitely.
8 Agrippina the Younger
A feud between Agrippina the Younger and Nero forced the Roman Emperor to decide that his mother had to die. While he mulled over traditional methods of assassination, such as having her stabbed or poisoned by a trained killer, he eventually settled on a series of foolhardy plans to attempt to make the death appear as an accident.
According to contemporary sources, one of the first plots involved a specially made mechanical ceiling that was able to drop down and crush anyone caught underneath it. When this failed to work, Nero had a collapsible boat constructed that would sink when Agrippina was aboard. This also did not work as planned, as the woman swam to shore. Eventually, the emperor had to settle for paying a group of men to kill her and make it look like a suicide.
7 Jorg Jenatsch
Jorg Jenatsch was a Swiss politician who grew to prominence during the Thirty Years’ War. He gained notoriety after taking part in a series of murders, including the brutal killing of Pompeius von Planta in 1621, and became a divisive figure amongst the population for his actions. Despite this, Jorg continued to remain in public life, even when threats to his life were made.
He was killed as a result of an outlandish assassination plot that saw a group of killers dress up in costumes and infiltrate a carnival that the controversial figure was celebrating at. Their leader was completely covered and carried a large axe with him but was able to join in with the celebration simply by asking Jorg. Once he got in close proximity to the politician, he was shot with a pistol while the rest of the gang attacked him with their weapons.
The costumes not only allowed the men to travel through the carnival without attracting any attention, as everyone else was also dressed for the festivities, but also meant that they could effectively hide their identities. The bizarre plan worked as the killers were never captured.
6 Louis XV
If you are going to attempt to kill a member of a royal family, especially a king or queen, then it is essential that you ensure to plan your attack thoroughly. After all, you are only likely to have one opportunity to do the deed and a small window of time to carry out your plan. Someone obviously did not give that advice to Robert-François Damiens, who made an incredibly poor attempt to assassinate Louis XV of France.
Having managed to slip passed the royal guards protecting the king, Damiens was able to get close enough to Louis XV so that he could stab him. Fortunately for the monarch, the would-be-assassin had only thought to bring a small pen-knife blade. The small blade size and the fact that the king was wearing multiple layers to keep him warm during the winter meant that the wound was less than half an inch thick. Guards quickly sized Damiens and he was executed two months later.
5 Luis Carrero Blanco
The assassination of Luis Carrero Blanco was one of the most audacious and error-laden plots of all time. A group of four commandos decided to killer the Prime Minister when it became clear he was to take over for the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1973, though, their plans did not exactly work out.
The first part saw them successfully managing to convince a landlord that they were art students, giving them the chance to rent a basement apartment. From there, they began to dig a tunnel under a road without any experience or knowledge of tunneling. This caused huge problems as the tunnel kept collapsing and noxious fumes were released from nearby sewage. These problems, combined with the inadequate equipment they were using, meant that it took far longer than they had ever imagined to complete the task.
Ultimately, the plot worked when they were able to blow up the car carrying the politician when he passed over the explosives that had been placed in the tunnel. The explosion had so much force that it sent the vehicle five stories high.
4 Georgi Markov
Although he initially worked as a writer, Georgi Markov became a prominent critic of Bulgaria after defecting from the communist nation to the United Kingdom. After being marked as an enemy of the state for the work he was carrying out in London, Bulgarian secret police formed a plan to kill the dissident before he could cause more damage.
Enlisting the help of the KGB, the police agents were able to devise a device that could be used to poison Markov. While making his way to work in 1978, he was struck in the leg with an umbrella, causing a slight stinging sensation. He thought little of it until he found that the pain hadn’t gone away by the time he arrived at the BBC office where he worked. After later falling ill from a fever and passing away just days later, it was discovered the umbrella had inserted a tiny ricin-filled pellet into his leg.
3 Francisco Felix
Francisco Felix is not a name that many people will be aware of as he is not well-known outside of his native Mexico. He was the head of the once hugely powerful Arellano Felix cartel family that spent most of its criminal activity smuggling and selling drugs in Mexico and California. Most of the brothers have either been arrested or killed in recent years, leaving the family severely weakened.
The final nail in the coffin came in 2013 when a group of men disguised as clowns managed to infiltrate a party and shoot the drug lord through the throat and head, killing him instantly. According to authorities, the gunmen were wearing colorful wigs and red noses so that they couldn’t be identified.
2 Abraham Lincoln
Most people remember the assassination of Abraham Lincoln because of the fact that it was successful and killed one of the greatest presidents in American history. The truth is that the plan was not just crazy but also a miserable failure when taken as a whole.
Firstly, the plot actually called for three people to be killed that night, rather than just Lincoln. Unfortunately for the attackers, Secretary of State William Seward was too well protected and the Vice President Andre Johnson escaped when his assassin got too drunk to carry out his plan.
Even though John Wilkes Booth succeeded, he also made a number of baffling mistakes. He only used a single fire gun for the killing, meaning that he had to engage in hand to hand combat to flee the theater. He then jumped from the balcony, breaking his leg, and got lost several times during his escape. This meant he was captured just 12 days later.
1 Alexander Litvinenko
Alexander Litvinenko was a former member of the FSB, Russia’s secret service and successor to the KGB, before he defected from the state and was granted asylum in the United Kingdom. He then lived in London with his family working as a journalist and consulting with British intelligence services.
He was killed in November of 2006, when he fell ill with acute radiation syndrome from ingesting a lethal dose of Polonium 210. The radioactive substance had been served in a teapot at the Millennium Hotel in London, which was discovered when police followed a trail of radiation throughout the city.
A number of investigations have been carried out since the murder but Russia has frustrated attempts by British authorities to extradite suspects. In 2015, Scotland Yard said, "The evidence suggests that the only credible explanation is in one way or another the Russian state is involved in Litvinenko's murder.”
Sources: TheGuardian.com, History.com, Telegraph.co.uk, BBC.co.uk, Biography.com, Britannica.com, LATimes.com, DailyMail.co.uk
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