Would-be presidential assassin wants to convert to Islam

Also, from our archives: “interesting” media account of incident

14 April 2007: Vladimir ARUTINIAN (also spelled ARUTYUNIAN), the man who attempted to assassinate President George W. Bush at the Freedom Square in downtown Tbilisi (Republic of Georgia) on May 10, 2005 said he wants to convert to Islam, according to his lawyer Onis Meboniya. ARUTINIAN reportedly tossed a RGD-5 hand grenade at a podium where George W. Bush and Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili were addressing a crowd of about ten thousand people. The grenade landed about 150 feet from the dais, but did not explode.

ARUTINIAN was arrested in Tbilisi on July 20, 2005 after a shootout with Georgian police that resulted in the death of Col. Zurab Kvlividze, the head of the Georgian Interior Ministry’s counterintelligence department. He was indicted in September 2005 by a US grand jury on charges of trying to assassinate the president. In January 2006, however, ARUTINIAN was sentenced to life in prison in the Republic of Georgia.

From our archives: “Interesting” media account of incident

The following article describing the event appeared on a major media news site on 11 May 2005.

Grenade Thrown at Bush Speech
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
TBILISI, Georgia - Georgia’s security chief said Wednesday that an inactive grenade was found near the site where President Bush (search) made a speech in Tbilisi.

Gela Bezhuashvili, secretary of the National Security Council, said the Soviet-made RPG-5 grenade was found 100 feet from the tribune where Bush spoke on Tuesday.

U.S. Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry said Tuesday that his agency had been informed that a device - possibly a hand grenade - had been thrown near the stage during Bush’s speech, hit someone in the crowd and fallen to the ground.

Bezhuashvili said, however, that it was not thrown but “found.”

“The goal is clear - to frighten or to scare people and to attract the attention of the mass media,” he said. “The goal has been reached and that is why I’m talking to you now.”

“In any case there was no danger whatsoever for the presidents,” he said, referring to Bush and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili.

Investigators are examining the grenade, which Bezhuashvili said was a “so-called engineering grenade,” found in “inactive mode.”

“I am not an expert but it was not possible to detonate it there,” he said. “Nevertheless, this is a subject of close attention and it is being studied jointly by the Georgian and American sides.”

Security was very tight at Bush’s speech in Freedom Square. Georgian police were deployed, and U.S. snipers were visible on the rooftops, scanning the crowd with binoculars. U.S. agents, together with their Georgian counterparts, manned the security gates, making even Georgian performers - who in some cases were decked out with fake ammunition as part of their costumes - remove every piece of metal before passing through the detectors.

Many in the crowd were carrying plastic soda bottles, which they used to squirt water on each other to stave off the heat after hours of standing without shelter under a bright sun. There were many young people horsing around during the speeches - especially when the translation was muffled and the speech unintelligible - and some threw plastic bottles at one another for entertainment.