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Reuters reports this morning that Idriss Deby, president of Chad, was killed while visiting troops engaged in armed combat. I can’t remember the last time I heard of a head of state being killed in combat; my hunch is that this has become exceedingly rare.

Prior to this event, what was the last time a head of state was killed in combat?


As the OP hasn't responded to comments, I've taken up C Monsour's suggestion and edited (plus cast the 5th reopen vote). OP, if you don't like the edit, it's your right to rollback. Other users, comments are welcome - I'm not trying to impose anything here, just trying to get an interesting question reopened.

Edit for focus / clarity (and to elicit an answer which is somewhat similar to Idriss Deby's death):

  1. The person must have been head of state at the time of death.
  2. Excludes coups as these are relatively common and comparatively unremarkable, unlike the circumstances in which Idriss Deby was killed (in past 100 years or so, I think).
  3. The person was killed as a result of enemy combat action in a war zone, either while commanding, fighting or observing his/her troops in action (i.e. the head of state was with his/her troops at the time). Thus, car / plane bombs and other assassinations outside of a war zone are not included. However, if the enemy learnt of the head of state's presence in the war zone and targeted him / her with snipers, artillery, aerial bombardment etc., that would count.
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    Ooooh. I like this question. – T.E.D. Apr 20 at 16:04
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    Muammar Gaddafi was killed in the Battle of Sirte, on 20th October 2011, a couple of months after being deposed as President of Libya. Being killed after being deposed is probably much commoner than being killed while head of state. – John Dallman Apr 20 at 16:55
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    I think Gaddafi is the right answer but ill also throw out there President Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahmane of the Comoros in 1989. He was killed in a firefight between 300 rebels and his presidential guard. But there is A LOT of weirdness around his death and there is even a good chance he was killed by the infamous mercenary Bob Denard. – ed.hank Apr 20 at 19:51
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    It's an interesting question but can you clarify what you mean by killed in combat? Do shoot outs in coups qualify? Also, it seems Deby was visiting troops and not actually there to fight. And do former heads of state count? There are some interesting ideas in comments - these might make good answers if you could clarify your question. – Lars Bosteen Apr 21 at 0:55
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    I just voted to reopen. This is a truly interesting historical question that is too ambiguous. Since the OP has not made it less ambiguous, someone else should, rather than closing it. – C Monsour Apr 21 at 12:20
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Michael Collins was ambushed and killed 22 August 1922 during the Irish Civil War. He was the head of the provisional government and arguably the closest thing Ireland had to a head of state at the time, even though, technically, the head of state was George V.

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El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed

El-Ouali Mustapha Sayed (also known as El Uali, El-Wali, Luali or Lulei; Arabic: الوالي مصطفى السيد‎; b. 1948 – 9 June 1976) was a Sahrawi nationalist leader, co-founder and second Secretary-General of the Polisario Front.

On 9 June 1976 El-Ouali was killed by a shrapnel piece through the head returning from a major Polisario raid on the Mauritanian capital, Nouakchott, in which they bombarded the Presidential palace. In the retreat, pursued by Mauritanian troops, armored vehicles and aviation, a group with Ouali separated from the principal column, going to Benichab (about 100 km. north of Nouakchott) with the intention of destroying the water pipeline that supplied the capital. Other sources claim that the subsequent combat took place 60 km (37 mi) north of Akjoujt.src
They were surrounded and cornered by Mauritanian troops with Panhard AMLs and then annihilated. Ouali's body was sent to Nouackchott and buried secretly in a military terrain (in 1996, 20 years after his death, the exact place of his rests was revealed), where it still lies. His position as Secretary-General was briefly assumed in an interim capacity by Mahfoud Ali Beiba, who was then replaced by Mohammed Abdelaziz at the Polisario's III General Popular Congress in August 1976.

The List of heads of state and government who died in office shows that to be indeed rather not common in recent times. At least compared to Monarchs killed in action. However, looking at List of assassinated and executed heads of state and government, Gaddafi 2011 would also make the list, albeit perhaps not as a result of direct combat. But then again, tighter definitions woukd be helpful for such a trivia question.

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I don't know what was the last previous example.

The ruler of Bornu and other regions, Rabih az-Zubayr, was defeated and killed at the Battle of Kousseri on April 22, 1900.

And he might have been the last head of state and/or head of government to be killed in military action before Idriss Deby.

But on the other hand there have been a lot of unstable governments in the last sixty years involved in civil and foreign conflicts, so perhaps some other heads of state have been killed in battle during that period.

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    Another die-hard example in 1870: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Luiz Apr 20 at 17:03
  • I think there is a typo in the name of your contender. The "s" should probably be an "a". – Jan Apr 20 at 21:08
  • 1900, so definitely not the most recent head of state killed by military action. Alexander Obrenovic, king of Serbia, was killed by military action 29 May 1903 (though I would not call it combat--he was assassinated by his army as part of a coup.) – C Monsour Apr 21 at 3:24

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