The history books are full of high-profile assassinations for the purpose of sending a political message. And though such events remain rare, when they do happen, they send shockwaves throughout their communities and often the wider political world.

Japan’s Turbulent Summer

Only recently, Shinzo Abe‘s assassination was one such shockwave. As the longest-serving prime minister in one of the world’s safest countries, Abe was shot dead by a lone gunman while campaigning in Japan’s upper house elections.

The gunman, 41-year-old Tetsuya Yamagami, said that his initial aim was to assassinate a high-ranking Unification Church official, Hak Ja Han. The Church has been at the centre of controversy since allegations were made against it by Yamagami. We know that Yamagami’s mother was a member and that she filed for bankruptcy. We also know that he blamed the Chruch for her financial misfortune. In the end, Abe became Yamagami’s target because of his connection and praise for the Church and because he was easier to reach than Hak Ja Han. Tetsuya Yamagam, who is unemployed, ended up venting his frustration at a system that he felt let him down by assassinating one of its best-known politicians.

A Bloody History

History can teach us many things. That the latest burst of political violence will not be the last, is one of them. But don’t just take my word. Here are six more politically motivated assassinations that prove politics and violence are sometimes inevitably mingled.

Jo Cox

Cox was the Labour MP for the Leeds constituency of Batley and Spen. She was murdered in broad daylight just days before the biggest constitutional vote in UK history; the Brexit Referendum of 2016. Her tragic death had all the hallmarks of lone-actor extremism, radical terrorism, and political violence. Following the trial, 53-year-old unemployed gardener, Thomas Mair, received a life sentence. The Crown Prosecution services stated that despite Mair not being tried as a terrorist, they consider him to be one.

Since Cox’s murder, her sister, Kim Leadbeater has become a member of Parliament for the same seat. Leadbeater succeeded the current mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, for the Labour seat.

Sir David Amess

The murder of Sir David Amess shocked the country. The MP ended most of his speeches with, ‘Make Southend a city.’ Sir David would always find a way to reference his city campaign in the speeches and discussions he was making. Ames was also proud of his religion. He regularly held his surgeries at churches, including the Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. It was there that he was fatally stabbed over 20 times by IS fanatic Ali Harbi Ali on October 15, 2021. His murderer was given a life sentence.

Stephen Timms

Timms’ is a case of a failed assassination. On May 14, 2010, 21-year-old British former student and Islamic extremist Roshonara Choudhry stabbed East Ham Labour MP Stephen Timms in an attempt to kill him. Choudhry approached Timms during his constituency surgery at the Beckton Globe Library in Kingsford Way, East London. She pretended to shake his hand before striking him twice in the abdomen with a 6-inch kitchen knife before being detained by police. Choudhry was sentenced to life with a minimum of 15 years after being found guilty of attempted murder. She was the first Al-Qaeda supporter to attempt a politically motivated assassination in the UK.

Alexander Litvinenko

The murder of Litvinenko was a widely discussed political event. A former officer of the KGB and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in 2006. Litvinenko claimed that in 1998, he and a number of other Russian secret service agents received an order to kill the oligarch Boris Berezovsky. After defecting to the West, Litvinenko was subjected to harassment by the Russian authorities. He subsequently fled to the UK where he worked with British and Spanish intelligence while in exile. Litvinenko openly disapproved of Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, sharing knowledge of the Russian mafia in Europe and its ties to the Kremlin. For this, he paid the ultimate price.

Benazir Bhutto

Two months before her eventual assassination, Bhutto had returned from exile.

Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, on December 27, 2007. She had previously ruled as Pakistan’s prime minister twice (1988–1990 and 1993–1996). She was the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party at the time of her assassination. After a political protest at Liaqat National Bagh, shots were fired and shortly after, a suicide bomber blew himself up. Bhutto died at Rawalpindi General Hospital. Twenty-three more people also died as a result of the bombing.

John F. Kennedy

No list would be complete without mentioning, arguably, the most high-profile political assassination in modern history. While travelling in a presidential motorcade through Dealey Plaza on Friday, November 22, 1963, at 12:30 p.m. CST in Dallas, Texas, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed. He was the 35th president of the United States.

Kennedy was shot dead by Lee Harvey Oswald outside the neighbouring Texas School Book Depository while riding in the car with his wife Jacqueline, Texas Governor John Connally, and Connally’s wife Nellie. Oswald himself was shot whilst being transferred from the city jail to the county jail. He died from his injuries on November 24, 1963, two days after assassinating Kennedy.

Kennedy was the fourth US president to be assassinated. Others before him included Abraham Lincoln, who was shot in the head whilst watching a play in Washington DC; James Garfield, who died from a lethal gunshot whilst waiting for a train to depart for his summer vacation; and William McKinley who too was shot whilst attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York.

So there you have it. Six politically motivated murders to make you think twice before saying politics is never a bloody sport.

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