Arutyunian waiting with the hand grenade in a handkerchief
12 March 1978 |
Tbilisi, Georgian SSR, Soviet Union
|Known for||Attempted assassination of George W. Bush and Mikheil Saakashvili|
Vladimir Arutyunian (Georgian: ვლადიმერ არუთუნიანი; born 12 March 1978) is an ethnic Armenian who attempted to assassinate United States President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili by throwing a hand grenade at them on 10 May 2005. The attempt failed when the grenade did not detonate. He was later arrested and sentenced to life in prison.
Vladimir Arutyunian was born on 12 March 1978 in Tbilisi, Soviet Georgia. He is a Georgian citizen and an ethnic Armenian. Arutyunian lost his father at an early age and lived with his mother, who traded in the market. They lived in one of the poorest suburbs of Tbilisi. After completing his secondary education, he had no fixed occupation.
He joined the Democratic Union for Revival party led by Aslan Abashidze in January 2004, but soon after left the ranks of the organization. The Revival party was formed and joined by Arutyunian in the same month Mikheil Saakashvili became president of Georgia, and had led Adjara in a crisis by refusing to obey the central government authorities. Saakashvili and his party were considered to be pro-United States, while Abashidze and his party were considered to be pro-Russia. The crisis had ended in later 2004 without bloodshed.
On 10 May 2005, Arutyunian waited for United States President George W. Bush and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to speak. When Bush began speaking, he threw a Soviet-made RGD-5 hand grenade, wrapped in a red plaid handkerchief, toward the podium where Bush stood as he addressed the crowd. The grenade landed 18.6 metres (61 ft) from the podium, near where Saakashvili, his wife Sandra E. Roelofs, Laura Bush, and other officials were seated.
The grenade failed to detonate. Although original reports indicated that the grenade was not live, it was later revealed that it was. After Arutyunian pulled the pin and threw the grenade, it hit a girl, cushioning its impact. The red handkerchief remained wrapped around the grenade, and it prevented the striker lever from releasing. A Georgian security officer quickly removed the grenade, and Arutyunian disappeared.
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.
On 18 July 2005 Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili issued photos of an unidentified suspect and announced a reward of 150,000 Lari (USD $80,000) for information leading to the suspect's identification.
At the request of the Georgian government, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an investigation into the incident. Extra manpower was brought in from the surrounding region to help with the investigation. In one picture of the crowd, the FBI noted a man in the bleachers with a large camera. He was a visiting professor from Boise, Idaho. FBI agents contacted him and, with his photographs, were able to identify a suspect.
Acting on a tip from a hotline, police raided Arutyunian's home where he lived with his mother on 20 July 2005. During an ensuing gunfight, Arutyunian killed the head of the Interior Ministry's counterintelligence department, Zurab Kvlividze. He then fled into the woods in the village of Vashlijvari on the outskirts of Tbilisi. After being wounded in the leg, he was captured by Georgia's anti-terror unit.
DNA samples from the man matched the DNA samples from the handkerchief. Georgian police later found a chemical lab and a stockpile of explosives Arutyunian had built up in his apartment. Twenty liters of sulfuric acid, several drawers full of mercury thermometers, a microscope, and "enough dangerous substances to carry out several terrorist acts" were found.
After his arrest, he was shown on television admitting from his hospital bed that he had thrown the grenade. Arutyunian also said the reason he attempted to assassinate both presidents was because he hated Georgia's new government for being a "puppet" of the United States. He further stated he did not regret what he did and would do it again if he had the chance.
Although he initially admitted his guilt when arrested, Arutyunian later refused to cooperate during the trial. After pleading not guilty, he refused to answer questions in court. Arutyunian's lawyer, Elizabeta Dzhaparidze, said after the conviction and sentencing that she would appeal, stating "I consider that everything was far from proved." She cited the fact that Arutyunian's fingerprints were not found on the grenade. However, prosecutor Anzor Khvadagiani said that the grenade being wrapped in cloth explained the lack of distinguishable fingerprints and also that DNA tests of material found on the cloth matched Arutyunian's.
On 11 January 2006 a Georgian court sentenced him to life imprisonment for the attempted assassination of George Bush and Mikheil Saakashvili, and the killing of Officer Kvlividze. In September 2005, a United States Federal Grand Jury also indicted Arutyunian, and could ask to extradite him if he is ever released. He is not eligible for parole, and could only be released under a presidential pardon.
While in prison Vladimir Arutyunian converted from Christianity to Islam.
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