When a person enters a position of power, they put themselves at risk for assassination. They could anger the wrong person, cause someone to develop an unnatural obsession or just be in the wrong place at the wrong time – namely in power. However, for these political leaders they were able to dodge the bullet, avoid the poison and live to see another day. This is by no means a comprehensive list as many political leaders have had more than one attempt on their life, but these list includes some of the most memorable.
1. Fidel Castro
The number of attempts on Fidel Castro is unknown. Fabian Escalante, a retired Chief of Cuba’s counterintelligence estimated 638 assassination attempts on Castro, which he blames on the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). 8 attempts by the CIA have been substantiated by Senate Committees. It is widely believed that the number is closer to 600 than 8 because of the CIA’s desire to get rid of Castro and put a new government in place in Cuba. Castro himself once said that “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.”
It is not just the number of assassination attempts but the assassination plots themselves that makes Castro stand out. One assassination plot involved a bacteria infested scuba diving suit that was paired with a booby trapped conch shell placed on the bottom of the sea. Another of the stranger plots included a ballpoint pen with a hidden hypodermic syringe loaded with Blackleaf 40, which can stop the heart and cause the respiratory system to shut down. The CIA was also not above involving Castro’s lovers in order to get close enough to kill the dictator. There was even an attempt to destroy Castro’s beard as a method of character assassination.
While the entirety of the assassination plots against Castro is unknown there is plenty of evidence to suggest numerous assassination attempts were made by the CIA, the Department of Defense and the State Department. During the early 1960s the Kennedy Administration was determined to get rid of Castro and pushed the CIA to get the job done. The CIA became so desperate that they were willing to call upon the expertise of the mafia. The CIA reached out to Momo Dalvatore Giancana and Santo Trafficante two men on the FBI’s most wanted list and offered the men $150,000 for the death of Castro. They failed, just like every other assassination attempt on Castro.
Alexander II of Russia was the Emperor of Russia, the King of Poland and the Grand Duke of Finland from March 1855 to March 1881. He put forth a number of significant reforms such as freeing the serfs, promoting university education, abolishing corporal punishment and ending some of the privileges of the nobility.
On April 4th, 1866, Dimitry Karakozov, a member of the nobility, attempted to kill Alexander II and fired a gun at him as he left his summer garden. The shot missed. The Tsar was saved because a peasant Ossip Komissarov rushed at Dimitry and jolted his arm which threw off his aim. Dimitry was hanged for his crime on September 3rd
On June 6th, 1867, Alexander II was enjoying the World’s Fair in Paris. A Polish man, Antoni Berezowski, who had participated in the Polish Uprising, fired a gun at the Tsar. The gun malfunctioned as it fired causing the shot to go wide and Antoni’s hand to be badly injured. Antoni was sentenced to a lifetime of hard labor.
On April 20th 1879, a student Alexander Soloviev fired several shots at the Tsar, all of which the Tsar avoided by running in a zig-zag pattern. Alexander was hanged for his crime. In December of 1879, the People’s Will group attempted to blow up the Tsar’s train by placing explosives on tracks at Odessa, Alexandrovsk and Moscow. The Tsar changed his route, missing the Odessa bomb, the Alexandrovsk bomb failed to detonate and the Moscow bomb detonated under the wrong train.
In February of 1880, a member of People’s Will attempted to kill the Tsar by setting off explosives when he entered the dining room of the Winter Palace. However, the Tsar was delayed for dinner and missed the explosion. A bomb assassination did finally kill the Tsar on March 13th, 1881.
Charles de Gaulle was one of the most famous presidents in French history, not only because of his heroism but because of his brazen attitude and inability to be killed. There are 31 recorded attempts on his life and an actual terrorist group formed with the sole purpose of bringing an end to the French leader. Many credit de Gaulle’s survival with his courage under fire and his uncanny ability to remain calm in any situation.
The first assassination attempt occurred even before de Gaulle became President and was merely a General. A petty officer who believed General de Gaulle was little more than a stooge for the British aimed a gun at the General, but his attempt failed when another soldier disarmed him before he could fire. One of the more daring assassination attempts was to blow up de Gaulle’s car on September 8th, 1961. De Gaulle was driving with his wife and his chauffeur when a sand pile next to the car exploded. The bomb was filled with Napalm and shot flames across the entire road. Charles de Gaulle ordered his chauffeur to drive through the flames and keep going.
Another attempt involved several cars full of snipers armed not only with sub-machine guns but also grenades and Molotov cocktails. De Gaulle appeared calm in his Citroen DS was 140 bullets were fired at the car. The bullets killed the motorcycle bodyguards, shattered the back window of De Gaulle’s car and struck all four tires. The car was still able to drive and thanks to the quality of the car and the skills of the chauffeur, neither Charles de Gaulle or his wife suffered any injuries. The event has now been re-told in books and film as “The Day of the Jackal.”
Charles de Gaulle would eventually die of old age at 79.
There were few men that more people wanted dead than Adolf Hitler. There were dozens of attempts to bring him down many of which the dictator survived by mere luck. Many within Germany that knew the dangers of the Nazi party and therefore assassination attempts started as early as 1921.
In 1935, Henrich Grunow attempted to kill Hitler by firing into the backseat of Hitler’s car as it drove by. Heinrich succeed in shooting the person sitting in the backseat, but at the time Hitler was driving the car and it was his chauffeur in the backseat. In 1937 a soldier put a bomb beneath the stage where Hitler was to speak. Knowing that Hitler liked to talk for extended periods, the soldier decided to go to the bathroom while he waited for Hitler to arrive. Unfortunately, he ended up locked in the toilet and could not detonate the bomb.
In 1943, Major General Henning von Tresckow and other sympathizers plotted to kill Hitler by blowing up with his plane with a bomb disguised to look like cognac. Tressckow asked Colonel Heinz Brandt if he would take the cognac to Berlin for him. Brandt agreed but put the bottles in unheated cargo, and the cold damaged the detonation mechanism. Another bomb attempt occurred in 1944 when Colonel Claus Count von Stauffenberg detonated a bomb while Hitler was holding a meeting. The bomb went off but Hitler survived the explosion.
In 1945, Albert Speer plotted to pump lethal gas into the ventilation of Hitler’s bunker. However, before he could get enough gas to make it through all the ventilation, Hitler doubled all security around the bunker, preventing Albert Speer from accessing the ventilation.
Hussein bin Talal ruled Jordan as it’s King from 1952 until 1999. He experienced his first assassination attempt at the age of 15 when he was walking with his grandfather. A man opened fire on the pair, killing Hussein’s grandfather but Hussein was not hit. Hussein followed the gunman who turned and fired directly at Hussein. Luckily a medal that he had been wearing, a gift from his grandfather, deflected the bullet.
In 1957, a royal adviser Ali Abu Nuwar attempted a coup against the young king with the financial support of Egypt. Hussein was alerted to the coup plans and was able to gather his loyal troops to stop it. In 1958, while flying his own airplane in Switzerland, two Syrian Mig-17 appeared beside him. They ordered the King to land at Damascus and tried to force him down when he refused. Luckily Hussein and his co-pilot out maneuvered the Syrians.
More assassination and coup attempts followed. One plan was to have the cook put poison in the King’s food, but he was found out when he first tested his poison on the palace cats. Another plan was to put acid into the King’s nose drops. Another was a bomb in the King’s office which ended up killing the Prime Minister instead. After the Six-Day war Jordan was rife with angry Palestinians who wanted their own country, and there was fighting between Palestinian factions and loyal Jordanians.
When the King went to see the fighting for himself his Jeep became caught in machine gun fire. His guards threw him into a ditch for cover but he returned to the Jeep when he realized he had left his beret behind. He ordered his men to drive the jeep out of the area. King Hussein faced more assassination attempts as he navigated Arab and world politics where his choices would always anger one side or the other.
Zog I of Albania was prolific in his ability to survive assassination attempts and he needed to be with over 600 blood feuds against him. Throughout his life he reportedly survived more than 50 assassination attempts. Zog I ruled over a police state where he took away most civil liberties and murdered political opponents. He also ensured that the constitution gave him most if not all of the governing power in the country, this earned him plenty of enemies.
One attempt took place within the halls of the Albanian Parliament. On February 23rd, 1924 Beqir Valteri opened fire and shot Zog I twice. Beqir Valteri was chased by militia and took refuge in a bathroom for a period singing patriotic songs. Zog I stepped down from political duties for a short period but survived. Valteri would later be released but another Avni Rustemi would be shot in connection to the attempt.
Another attempt took place on February 21st, 1931 when Zog I was visiting the Vienna State Opera house. Two men Aziz Cami and Ndok Gjeloshi of the National Union a group of Zog opponents in exile in Vienna. Zog was fired upon as he was getting into his car but was unharmed in the attack. Minister Eqrem Libohva was wounded and Zog’s guard Llesh Topallaj was shot three times in the head as the attackers thought he was Zog. Austrian authorities quickly arrived and ensured the safety of the leader.
All members of the opposition group were rounded up but most were released and simply exiled from Austria. As for the men who attempted the assassination they both served less than 4 years in prison. With such light punishments for those who would attempt to kill him, it is much less surprising that there were so many attempts.
Yasser Arafat was Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Yasser Arafat was considered a hero to the Palestinian people but he was little more than a terrorist to the Israelis, therefore it is not to surprising that there those that believe the Israeli government conspired to kill the Palestinian leader. The Israeli Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, or Mossad was the accused of being behind most of the assassination attempts made on Yassar Arafat. Israel has been quite secretive about their attempts on Arafar but Ariel Sharon, an Israeli general and former Prime Minister made it clear that it had been the ambition of several Israeli governments to kill the Palestinian leader. Arafat had accused Sharon of at least 13 attempts on his life but Sharon never gave a number himself, only that the opportunity had arisen multiple times. But Israel was not the only one to want Arafat dead, it is believed that King Hussein of Jordon ordered an assassination attempt on Arafat in 1970 during Black September.
Three times during Arafat’s reign as leader of the Palestinians the Israelis raid his compound but in all three times the leader survives, largely because Israel allows him to. In 2003, Israel’s security Cabinet states that it will work to “remove” Arafat from power and Arafat responds that they can kill him with bombs. The Israelis and Arafat are tight lipped as to the assassination attempts but both acknowledge it happened.
His death is the only assassination attempt that really got much investigation and attention, largely because the Palestinians believe he was murdered while the international community is not sure. He became very ill and died at a French hospital in 2004 at the age of 75. However, many of his personal belongings were found to have high levels of radioactive materials. An investigation found moderate evidence to suggest he had been poisoned.
Queen Victoria had a very long and successful reign as Queen of the British empire, but it was a reign that did not come easy. There are seven known attempts to assassinate the Queen that occurred throughout her long reign and the Queen took every attempt in stride and refused to live in fear of them. She did, however, change English law to better protect herself and others.
The first attempt came soon after she took the throne when a man rushed her carriage with a gun. He claimed that he was the rightful king of Britain, the Queen disagreed and had him sent to an insane asylum. In 1840, a waiter who refused to live in a Britain ruled by a woman, shot at the pregnant Queen and Prince Albert. He was also sent to an insane asylum.
One of the most daring attempts was in 1842 when a man shot at the Queen as she returned home from Church. He escaped and but was determined and returned the next day and fired again. The Queen then insisted she be used as bait to lure out the assassin. One his next try he was arrested by police and sentenced to death, but his punishment was reduced to deportation to an Australian penal colony. A mere five weeks later a hunchbacked dwarf fired upon the Queen. She lived and he escaped, but police were able to find him by arresting every hunchbacked dwarf in the city.
Several more men attempted to shoot her and one even hit her with his cane, bruising her. But the Queen never let the attempts affect her or her duty to the crown. After several attempts by crazy men, she made it law that an insane person could be found guilty of a crime.
Muammar Gaddafi ruled Libya for 41 years and was hated both by some members of the international community and by those over which he ruled. Gaddafi had some very powerful enemies including people within his own army forces, Britain and the United States. The United States even went as far as to order military planes to bomb Gaddafi’s compound in 1986.
More attempts would follow including a plan from the British that would involve playing a militant group to kill Gaddafi with a car bomb. Britain claims they had no plans for killing Gaddafi but David Shayler (current on the run from authorities after sharing British secrets) states that there were.
In 1993, 2000 Libyan soldiers plotted to end the life of their leader. The soldiers were all members of the Wafalla tribe and they felt that their tribe was not represented in the upper ranks of the military. The Libyan Air Force, which is made up of the Qadhadhfa tribe that Gaddafi was a member of, stepped in and stopped the coup attempt. The years between 1987 and 1998 saw so many assassination attempts that Gaddafi created a new security force which raided mosques. Gaddafi believed that these mosques were the center of the counter-revolutionary preaching.
In 2011, the people began to rise up against Muammar Gaddafi and protests erupted throughout the country. Gaddafi ordered the military to fire upon protests killing hundreds which caused many of the politicians within his own government to defect to the other side. NATO also joined the side of the protested and began airstrikes. On April 6th, 2011 a NATO airstrike killed one of Gaddafi’s sons and three of his grandchildren but Gaddafi survived. Gaddafi was killed later that year by a rebel militia from Misrata who took him prisoner and beat him.
Vladimir Putin is the infamous leader of Russia and continues to incite anger from those within his own country and even more so from those outside his country. There have been several reported assassination attempts on the leader.
In 2002, he was planning a trip to Azerbaijan and a few months before his arrival the government heard of a plot to kill Putin during his visit. 10 days before the Russian leader was to visit Azerbijan security forces noticed a shipment of explosives enter the country. They traced the package and found Kyanan Rostam who they believed planned to carry out the assassination.
A 2012 assassination attempt right before the Russian Presidential election. Officials in Russia and the Ukraine state they had stopped an assassination attempt after they arrested two men who claimed they were planning to assassinate then Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The alleged assassins showed the media a stockpile of explosives near a road that Putin would travel on the way to his government residence.
In 2016 there was a dramatic assassination attempt that may have come the closest of any of the others to killing Putin. The New World Order is believed to have tried to kill Putin in a head on collision in Moscow. The President’s official car was involved in a deadly accident when a Mercedes suddenly crossed lanes to hit the car head on. The crash killed Putin’s favorite driver but Putin was not in the car during the accident, despite the fact that he was supposed to be in the car on the way to the airport. Putin ended up changing cars at the last minute which had many believing that he had been informed of the plot. The president was shaken by the news but he continued on to his flight and the G20 summit in China.