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Murder Attempt on Slovakia’s Prime Minister Fico: First Lessons

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A JFK-style hit, where a sniper takes aim from afar, is not the only type of assassination that threatens a political leader’s life.

ANALYSIS by Susan Katz Keating

Important first lessons emerge from today’s assassination attempt on Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Grainy footage from the attack seems to show that the shots were fired by someone who was not deterred by the presence of a security detail, and whose primary goal was to shoot from close range, regardless of personal consequences.

Fico is fighting for his life after he was shot Wednesday afternoon following a Cabinet meeting in Handlova, according to a post on his Facebook profile.

Fico was “shot multiple times and is currently in life-threatening condition,” the Facebook post reads. “At this moment he is transported by helicopter to Banská Bystrica, because it would take too long to get to Bratislava due to the necessity of an acute procedure. The next few hours will decide.”

A broader picture of what happened and why will emerge in the days to come. In the immediate aftermath, though, a few things stand out.

Among them is that a JFK-style assassination, where a sniper takes aim from afar, is not the only threat to a political leader’s life. A determined modern assassin is not averse to channeling the actions of Leon Czolgosz, who in 1901 shot President William McKinley at point blank range. The former wants to strike and hide; the latter doesn’t care.

In this era of heightened tensions, politicians should know that they could be targeted. Their security details must be on point.

Today’s assassination attempt in Handlova shows how important this is when a Czolgosz-type killer appears on scene.

In video posted on the X social media platform, Fico is seen approaching a small crowd that is standing behind metal barriers. Fico is accompanied by men in dark suits, clearly his security detail. In the video, the security officers appear as a group to be focused on one particular section of the crowd, leaving a gap in close surveillance.

A man in in a white shirt walks forward into the gap. He brandishes a handgun. The security detail spots him. Before they can act, the man opens fire. The video depicts five gunshots. The security officers surround and disarm the man, but several shots already have hit Fico.

Initial reports were that doctors could not stem the prime minister’s internal bleeding, while later reports said that the surgery was successful.

A helicopter was sent for the leader, emergency services said.

Slovakian Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák said in an afternoon press conference that Fico had been in surgery for three and a half hours. “His medical state is really very complex,” he told reporters. “We are singularly focused on the health of Robert Fico. And we are hoping he will be strong enough to pull through.”

Official press conference regarding the shooting.

Officials have arrested a suspect, and are delving into his motive and connections. A key task for other public figures and their protective details is to draw the lessons that will be increasingly important in the political season to come.

The left-wing Fico returned to power for the fourth time last year after his party won the parliamentary election on a pro-Russian, anti-American platform. 

Susan Katz Keating is the publisher and editor in chief at Soldier of Fortune.

About Susan Katz Keating

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