Assassination

Assassination as a method of terrorism can be defined as the killing of an important or famous person as opposed to a random shooting or killing. For the terrorist viable assassination targets fall into 2 broad categories; firstly a target could be someone who would attract a lot of media attention such as a monarch or political leader here the murder is purely to attract media attention and heighten the fear of terrorism and the fear that no one is safe. The second type of target for assassination is of value as an opponent of the terrorist’s aims. This could be a political rival such as a president, or part of the security services hunting the terrorist group such as a police chief. Sometimes a victim can cover both aspects such as the killing of Lord Louis Mountbatten by the IRA in Cork in 1979.

Assassination is one of the oldest and simplest of terrorist methods; the word assassin entered the English language after the crusades due to the Ismaili fedayeen cult of the assassins that was founded by Hasan as Sabah in 1090 in the Lebanese mountains. This Shi’ite sect was known as Hashishi or Hashishians due to its use of the drug of the same name. They were a fundamentalist organisation who used murder and assassination of political and religious rivals. Their dedication to their cause was absolute and in a chilling taste of things to come they were willing to die to reach their target. The Mongols finally destroyed the cult in 1256 after a series of sieges of the assassin’s mountain strongholds.

To the determined assassin who is not concerned over their own safety no target is safe as American history shows with the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln (1865), J.F.Kennedy (1963) and Martin Luther King (1968). Assassination is not only a terrorist weapon but has a mixed tracked record of use by governments, from the failed attempts on Hitler’s life in WW2 to Israeli assassination of terrorists and members of Yasser Arafat’s political faction Fatah. 1987 saw the assassination of Abu Jihad the PLO’s military leader in Tunisia but 1997 saw two Israeli agents arrested in Jordan trying to poison a leading member of Hamas. Use of assassination remains a politically sensitive method of counterterrorism as it is often seen as illegal and lowering you to the terrorists level and if mistakes are made leads to the death of innocent people. As the cheapest and simplest terrorist method it will remain in use by terrorist organisations but with tightened security around important people it is becoming a less attractive option.

How to cite this article: Antill, P. (29 February 2004), Assassination, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_assassination.html

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