An Assassin’s Tool Kit: When Guns Are Not Enough

In 2005, the lost ax — believed to have been stolen by the Mexican police — turned up in the possession of the daughter of a Mexican police commander. According to The Guardian, the woman, Ana Alicia Salas, said her father had filched the bloodstained weapon to preserve it for posterity. But now, she said: “I am looking for some financial benefit. I think something as historically important at this should be worth something, no?”

Killer Clowns

Clowning Around…. The final seconds of Francisco Arellano FelixVideo by Greg Comer

Francisco Rafael Arellano Félix, a Mexican drug kingpin and former leader of the Tijuana Cartel, was celebrating at a birthday party when he was felled by armed men dressed as clowns.

The drug lord had hobnobbed with celebrities and sports stars, and his family, known as the Arellano Félix clan, was said to have inspired the film “Traffic.”

An Assassin’s Tool Kit: When Guns Are Not Enough
An Assassin’s Tool Kit: When Guns Are Not Enough

At the birthday party at a rented beach house in Los Cabos, Mexico, in 2013, assassins with red noses and bright orange wigs mingled among 100 guests. Footage of the scene captures Mr. Arellano Félix’s last moments. As two bands played and a man sang, the clowns began shooting.

“He was hit by two bullets, one in the chest and one in the head,” Isai Arias, a Baja California state government official, said at the time. Mr. Arellano Félix died at 63. The clowns escaped.

Spiked Toothpaste


Patrice Lumumba of Congo in New York in 1960. United States officials feared he would become the African equivalent of Fidel Castro.Credit Allyn Baum/The New York Times

Patrice Lumumba, the first legally elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was a champion of African unity and of self-determination for his own country, which had been colonized by Belgium.

But Western governments, which had big stakes in his nation, wanted his head. (The United States, which was believed to have used uranium from Congolese mines for the Hiroshima atomic bomb, feared the charismatic Congolese politician would become an African Fidel Castro.)

The C.I.A. considered poisoning his toothpaste. “I was totally taken aback,” Larry Devlin, a former C.I.A. officer, recalled in The New York Times in 2008 about being handed the toxic toothpaste in 1960 to carry out the assassination. He stalled, believing that the killing would have had “disastrous” global effects, he said.

Mr. Lumumba was deposed in 1960. He fled but was captured, tortured and killed by Congolese fighters on Jan. 17, 1961. His murder is considered one of the most important assassinations of the 20th century; it took place seven months after Congo won independence.

Nerve Agent in the Ear, and Face


Security cameras at the Kuala Lumpur airport captured Kim Jong-nam looking up at the departure board before the attack, and a woman attacking him, then walking away. After his attack, he approached airport security officials and was taken to a medical clinic.Credit Kuala Lumpur International Airport, via Fuji TV

Most do not see the attacks coming.

Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of North Korea’s leader, perished after getting the nerve agent VX in his face at a Malaysian airport in February 2017, when he was set upon by two women who later said they had been recruited for what they were told was a prank.

The Hamas leader Khaled Meshal was targeted in September 1997 by Mossad agents who sprayed poison on his skin. The plot failed after Israel handed over the antidote.

Two men waited until he was about to enter his office in Amman before one walked up and tried to spray a lethal nerve toxin on his neck, but missed and got him in his ear. He later said that a shivering sensation raced down his spine “like an electric shock.”

At the hospital, the Hamas leader was given two days to live. A furious King Hussein of Jordan demanded that Israel provide the antidote, saying the Mossad agents could otherwise face execution. In an extraordinary move, Israel had an agent hand it over, saving Mr. Meshal’s life.

A Camera Bomb


A mural of Ahmed Shah Massoud in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2002, put in place to commemorate the first anniversary of his assassination.Credit Tyler Hicks/The New York Times

Gen. Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan warlord, was assassinated in 2001 by two men posing as journalists. They entered his headquarters in the Panjshir Valley in northern Afghanistan, where General Massoud sat on a couch. The “reporter” detonated a bomb strapped to his waist. The “cameraman” set off a bomb hidden in the camera and ran from the room, jumping into the River Oxus, but the general ’s bodyguards pulled him out and killed him.

A Deadly Umbrella


Georgi MarkovCredit BBC, via Associated Press

The dissident writer Georgi Markov defected from his communist homeland of Bulgaria in 1969 to start a new life in London, where he became a reporter for the BBC.

Waiting to catch a bus to work on Waterloo Bridge on Sept. 7, 1978, he felt a sharp pain on the back of his right thigh but continued on to work. He developed a fever, was admitted to a hospital in South London and died four days later.

An inquiry revealed someone had used a specially adapted umbrella to inject a pellet containing the poison ricin into his leg. The culprit was later identified as a Bulgarian spy, Francesco Gullino, a.k.a. Agent Piccadilly.

Tea, With Something Extra


Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former K.G.B. officer who became a critic of the Russian government, died two weeks after being poisoned with a radioactive isotope.Credit Natasja Weitsz/Getty Images

Sometimes, the victim suffers terribly: Alexander V. Litvinenko, a former Russian agent and Putin critic who lived in exile in London, drank tea laced with polonium-210 in 2006 and died a slow, agonizing death.

Roman Tsepov, Vladimir V. Putin’s former bodyguard, began vomiting and having diarrhea after drinking a cup of tea at a Federal Security Service office in St. Petersburg on Sept. 11, 2004. He died at 42 two weeks later. According to a BBC radio documentary, a post-mortem revealed radioactive contamination in his body.

Why the former bodyguard was killed has never been publicly revealed.

The Men Who Would Not Die


The Cuban leader Fidel Castro denouncing the United States at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960. He died in 2016, at the age of 90.Credit Associated Press

Two figures stand out in assassination lore: Fidel Castro, the Cuban strongman, and Rasputin, the wild-eyed, deeply reviled monk who influenced Russia’s last czar.

The attempts on Castro’s life included:

A contaminated skin-diving suit: According to a summary of the C.I.A.’s assassination plots, an American lawyer, James B. Donovan, was to give Castro a contaminated skin-diving suit while the two negotiated for the release of the Bay of Pigs prisoners.

“The C.I.A. plan was to dust the inside of the suit with a fungus producing Madura foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease, and also contaminating the suit with tuberculosis bacilli in the breathing apparatus,” the document states.

The lawyer chose instead to give Castro a clean skin-diving suit “as a gesture of friendship,” and the modified one never left the laboratory.

A booby-trapped seashell: C.I.A. experts were asked to consider packing a seashell with explosives, so that it could be left in one of Castro’s favored diving haunts, rigged to kill him if he picked it up.

“It was determined that there was no shell in the Caribbean area large enough to hold a sufficient amount of explosive which was spectacular enough to attract the attention of Castro,” the documents say.

Fatal cigars: The plan was to put a botulinum toxin into a box of his favorite cigars. The cigars were delivered in 1961 — but never reached Castro.

Botulism, again: Marita Lorenz told Vanity Fair in 1993 that as Castro’s lover in 1959, she was recruited to assassinate him by dropping two botulism-toxin pills into his drink. She had reservations, and then found out that by putting the pills in a cold-cream jar, she had spoiled them. She said the wily Castro had her all shook up, anyway:

“He leaned over, pulled out his .45, and handed it to me. He didn’t even flinch. And he said, ‘You can’t kill me. Nobody can kill me.’ And he kind of smiled and chewed on his cigar … I felt deflated. He was so sure of me. He just grabbed me. We made love.”

Rasputin, who had gained enormous influence in the court of Nicholas II with his claims to healing powers, survived several assassination attempts before an elaborate conspiracy unfolded in December 1916 to kill him once and for all.

Prince Felix Yusupov invited him to Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, where he was fed cake laced with potassium cyanide and copious amounts of cyanide-spiked Madeira — but did not die.

He was shot, but ran. He was shot again and again. Some reports say the conspirators even stabbed him. Finally, he was thrown into a car and driven to Petrovski Island, where he was dropped into the Neva River and drowned.

Mike Wolgelenter contributed reporting. Elisa Cho contributed research.

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