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Attempted Presidential Assassin Convicted Overseas

The Case of the Failed Hand Grenade Attack
Man Who Tried to Assassinate President Convicted Overseas

01/11/06

Vladimir Arutyunian in the crowd with a grenade
Arutyunian in the Crowd with
Grenade Prior to the Attack

An unknown man stood for hours in the hot sun, wearing a heavy leather coat and muttering and cursing to himself, part of a huge crowd waiting for President Bush to speak at Freedom Square in T’bilisi, Georgia, in May. He was clutching to his chest a hand grenade hidden in a red handkerchief. He was planning to kill the President.

When the President began speaking, the man pulled the pin and hurled the grenade in the direction of the podium. It landed just 61 feet from where the President, First Lady Laura Bush, the President and First Lady of the Republic of Georgia, and other officials sat. The hand grenade failed to detonate, thankfully, as the red handkerchief wrapped tightly around it didn’t allow the firing pin to deploy fast enough.

An alert Georgian security officer scooped up the grenade and removed it from the area. Meanwhile, the man melted into the vast crowd and disappeared.

Who was this man...and how did we work with Georgian authorities to find him?

Let the investigation begin: the FBI has an overseas office in T’bilisi, headed by Special Agent Bryan Paarmann, one of more than 50 Legal Attachés worldwide that enable us to respond quickly to cases like this. Agent Paarmann was quickly notified of the attack, and, at the request of the Georgian government, the FBI opened an investigation.

Here’s how the case unfolded:

  • First, we quickly brought extra manpower to the scene, including agents from nearby Budapest, Hungary, the FBI Lab, and from our Washington, D.C., office. The agents analyzed the grenade, mapped the crime scene, and obtained a DNA sample from the handkerchief, which gave us a genetic profile of the attacker.
  • At the same time, we began gathering all news footage and photographs taken that day. Working closely with Georgian authorities, we used the photographs to identify and then interview potential witnesses in the crowd. One Georgian woman said she’d seen a suspicious man in a heavy coat with a red handkerchief. A Georgian sketch artist developed a composite picture of the man based on her description.
  • In one picture, we also spotted a man in the bleachers with a large camera facing the area of the attack. Turns out, he was a visiting professor from Boise, Idaho. We contacted him and obtained his photographs. Based on the woman’s description, we were able to identify a suspect from the professor’s photographs. Georgian authorities publicized the man’s picture and created a hotline for information.
  • Soon after, acting on a tip from the hotline, Georgian officers arrived at the apartment of a man named Vladimir Arutyunian (or Arutunian). The man opened fire, tragically killing a Georgian police officer, but the attacker was soon captured. DNA samples from the man matched the handkerchief. From his hospital bed, Arutyunian admitted that he had thrown the grenade in hopes of killing President Bush.
  • Georgian police later found a chemical lab in a basement and bunker in the woods that Arutyunian had stocked with chemicals, explosives, and other materials. FBI personnel helped dismantle the stockpiles, saving lives and gathering further evidence.
  • In December 2005, FBI agents from Washington and our Lab testified in Georgian court on the evidence gathered against Arutyunian.

The result? On January 11, Arutyunian was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the grenade attack and for killing the Georgian police officer.

“We were pleased to work side by side with our Georgian colleagues, who were dedicated to finding this dangerous man,” Agent Paarmann said. “We were deeply saddened, though, by the loss of one of their officers in bringing this would-be assassin to justice. We honor his bravery and are gratified that his sacrifice was not in vain and that justice has been served.”