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The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, was the event that started World War 1. The assassination was planned by a group of six people (one Bosniak and five Serbs) that were part of the Young Bosnia Movement. Danilo Ilic recruited Vaso Čubrilović, Muhamed Mehmedbašić, Cvjetko Popović, Trifko Grabež, Nedeljko Čabrinović and Gavrilo Princip and coordinated the assasination. The person who however ended up killing Franz Ferdinand, partly by chance, was Gavrilo Princip.

The Assassination

Although the group had carefully planned the assassination, things went wrong, their plans were foiled and the assassination almost didn’t take place. The members of the group were posted all along the route on which the Archduke and his wife would tour Sarajevo in an open car (with almost no security). Nedjelko Cabrinovic threw a hand grenade at the car, but it rolled off and instead wounded some bystanders and an officer in one of the other cars in the procession.


The procession was stopped and Cabrinovic was arrested after a failed attempt at suicide (he swallowed an expired cyanide pill and jumped in the river). Later on the day, the Archduke decided to go visit the wounded officer at the hospital and the driver took the wrong route and tried to reverse as he realized his mistake. Princip was still loitering in the area and spotted the car, walked up to it and shot Franz Ferdinand twice, point blank from a 1.5m distance. The pregnant Sophie had instinctively thrown her body over that of her husband and was also killed.

Who Was Gavrilo Princip?

Princip was a Yugoslav nationalist who believed that the Yugoslavs had to be united and freed from Austria. He was born to a poor family and named “Gavrilo” after the Arch Angel Gabriel because his parents hoped that it would help the sickly baby to survive (they had lost six infants previously). His parents were Christian peasants (serfs) and Gavrilo’s brother paid for his education, but he was expelled from school in 1912 for his involvement in a Demonstration against the

Austro-Hungarian authority. Although Princip was initially rejected when trying to volunteer for the Black Hand Servian guerilla band, he managed to get some military training through the Serbian Chetnik Organization. During his life in Sarajevo, the Austro-Hungarian government implemented martial law, seized all schools and prohibited many Serbian societies, which made Princip very bitter.

No Death Sentence for Franz Ferdinand’s Killer

Princip tried to commit suicide by the same cyanide that didn’t work for his fellow conspirator and the pistol he then lifted to his head were wrestled from his hands by a bystander before he could shoot himself. As he was 19 years old at the time of the assassination, he was 27 days too young for the Habsburg law to give him the death sentence. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, which, in hindsight, may have been a harsher sentence as he did not survive prison. Conditions were harsh and he contracted serious skeletal tuberculosis only three years later, which ate away his bones in such a way that his arm had to be amputated. In the end, malnutrition and the disease claimed his life.

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