Inside The Assassination Attempt Against George W. Bush

While only four presidential assassination attempts have been successful, every American president is certainly aware that the power of the office makes them uniquely vulnerable targets. Some presidents have had to face that danger more than once.

George W. Bush had his first close call in office in February of 2001 when, per Business Insider, an allegedly mentally ill former IRS employee named Robert Pickett fired several rounds toward the White House. The Secret Service managed to subdue Pickett by shooting him in the knee and he was promptly taken into custody. Meanwhile, President Bush had been working out in the residential part of the mansion and was unharmed.

Four years later, just a few months into his second term, President Bush would face a second attempt overseas. On May 10, 2005, the president, along with First Lady Laura Bush, attended an outdoor rally in Tbilisi, Georgia, one of the former Soviet Republics and a key ally. Bush was on stage alongside Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and both their wives. A man in the crowd was plotting a much more dangerous assassination attempt than the one Bush survived four years earlier. This assassin might have succeeded, had he not made a critical mistake.

"An unknown man stood for hours in the hot sun, wearing a heavy leather coat and muttering and cursing to himself," explains the FBI in its recounting of the event. That man was 28-year-old Vladimir Arutyunian.

Arutyunian's attempted assassination of George W. Bush

Arutyunian clutched a hand grenade hidden tightly inside a red handkerchief, just waiting for the right moment. When he lobbed the grenade toward the stage, it first hit a girl, before falling to the stage and coming to rest just 61 feet from President Bush. According to History on the Net, the firing pin didn't deploy fast enough due to the tightness of the handkerchief. In further good fortune for Bush, there were reportedly two spoons inside the grenade that were supposed to cause a chemical reaction when engaged, but this part of the device also malfunctioned. A Georgian security officer swiftly grabbed the weapon and both presidents finished the event appearance. It wasn't until they left the stage that the two presidents learned about how close they'd come to death.

Arutyunian, meanwhile, disappeared into the crowd. The FBI and Georgian authorities went to great lengths to find the would-be assassin. When Georgian law enforcement found and attempted to arrest him, Arutyunian shot and killed a Georgian police officer before he was finally taken into custody. CBS News reports that although Arutyunian confessed to the assassination attempt on Georgian TV, his lawyer later tried to argue that because of his client's political beliefs and because he didn't want any Georgians to be hurt in the attack, that Arutyunian should not be punished. The courts disagreed. On January 11, 2006, Arutyunian was sentenced to life in prison.