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Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo 1914

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on 28 June 1914 in Bosnia-Herzegovina – then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – brought the tensions between Austria-Hungary and Serbia to a head. This triggered a chain of international events that embroiled Russia and the major European powers. Thirty-seven days later the world was at war.

The heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne sat next to his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg in an open-topped car as they were driven along the streets of Sarajevo. When the driver stopped to reverse, 19 year-old Serbian Gavrilo Princip shot them at close range with a semi-automatic pistol. He was one of six assassins positioned along the motorcade route by Danilo Ilić, a leader in the secret radicalist organization, Black Hand. Franz Ferdinand was hit in the neck, the bullet opening his jugular vein and lodging in his spine. Another bullet penetrated the right of the car and fatally wounded Sophie in the abdomen; she was pregnant with their fourth child.

The political objective of the assassination was to break the Austro-Hungarian south-Slav provinces off so they could be combined into a Greater Serbia or a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. At the top of these Serbian military conspirators was Chief of Serbian Military Intelligence Dragutin Dimitrijević, his right hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić, and Masterspy Rade Malobabić. Major Tankosić trained the assassins and armed them with bombs and pistols. They were also given access to the same underground railroad that Rade Malobabić had used for the infiltration of operatives and the transportation of weapons into Austria-Hungary.

The assassins, the key members of the underground railway, and the key Serbian military conspirators who were still alive were arrested, tried, convicted and punished. Those who were arrested in Bosnia were tried in Sarajevo in October 1914. The other conspirators were arrested and tried before a Serbian kangaroo court in French-occupied Salonika in 1916–1917 on unrelated false charges. Serbia executed the top three military conspirators. Much of what is known about the assassinations comes from these two trials and related records.

Assignment of responsibility for the bombing and murders of 28 June is highly controversial because the attack led to the outbreak of World War I one month later. An evidential approach must be taken to weed through the various claims and counter-claims concerning responsibility.