Peoples and Nations

Vladimir Arutyunian: GW Bush's Would-Be Assassin

Vladimir Arutyunian: GW Bush's Would-Be Assassin

The following article on Vladimir Arutyunian is an excerpt from Mel Ayton's Hunting the President: Threats, Plots, and Assassination Attempts-From FDR to Obama.


Despite his leading role in the War on Terror in the early 21st century, assassination attempts against president George W. Bush rarely resulted in anything more than threats.

The only incident in which a would-be assassin got close to actually killing Bush occurred in 2005, when the president visited Georgia, America's closest ally in the former Soviet Union. While Bush was giving a speech in Freedom Square in Tbilisi, on May 10, 2005, twenty-eight-year-old Vladimir Arutyunian threw a live, Soviet-made RGD-5 hand grenade toward the podium where Bush was standing. Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili and their two wives and other officials were seated nearby. The grenade hit a girl, cushioning its impact. It landed just sixty-one feet from President Bush. A Georgian security officer quickly removed the live grenade. It did not explode because it had been wrapped in a red tartan handkerchief, which kept the firing pin from deploying quickly enough. Inside, two spoons were supposed to disengage causing a chemical reaction. The spoons got stuck. The FBI concluded that the grenade could have killed Bush if it had worked. Arutyunian later explained that he threw the grenade “towards the heads” so that “the shrapnel would fly behind the bulletproof glass.” Bush and Saakashvili did not learn of the incident until after the rally.

Vladimir Arutyunian escaped into the dense crowd. But the FBI examined 3,000 photographs taken by a college professor during the event and found a facial portrait of a man who matched Arutyunian's physical description. The Georgian authorities distributed the photo to the media and posted it in public places. An informant identified Arutyunian.

Police, accompanied by an FBI agent, went to the would-be assassin's home, and as they approached he fired on them, killing a Georgian agent. After he was subdued, police found a cache of chemicals in the basement of Arutyunian's house, including twenty liters of sulfuric acid, several drawers full of mercury thermometers, a microscope, and enough dangerous substances to carry out several terrorist acts.

The would-be assassin confessed and said he wanted to kill President Bush because he thought he was too soft on Muslims. At one hearing, Arutyunian sewed his lips together and demanded to meet human rights activists. He also said he would try again to kill Bush if he had the chance. Arutyunian was indicted by a U.S. federal grand jury for his assassination attempt on Bush. But Washington did not request extradition as he faced trial in Georgia on charges of the attempted murder of President Saakashvili and the murder of the Georgian agent. Arutyunian was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.