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- January 25 - Idi Amin Dada deposes Milton Obote in a successful coup d'etat and declares himself President of Uganda.
- February 7 - A soldier named Robert Curtis is shot dead by the Irish Republican Army.
- March 12 - Hafez al-Assad declares himself President of Syria.
- March 21 - The 1971 Bangladesh Genocide is initiated by Pakistani dictator Yahya Khan as a means of suppressing Bengali calls for self-determination.
- March 31 - William Calley is sentenced to life in prison for his role in the My Lai Massacre; three days later, President Richard Nixon commutes his sentence to house arrest.
- April 1 - The Fatherland and Liberty Nationalist Front is founded.
- April 25 - The first victim of the Freeway Phantom, 13-year old Carol Denise Spinks, is found murdered behind St. Elizabeths Hospital on a grassy embankment next to the northbound lanes of I-295, about 1,500 feet south of Suitland Parkway in Washington D.C.
- May 3 - Erich Honecker succeeds Walter Ulbricht as General Secretary of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany.
- July 23 - William Tolbert is elected President of Liberia.
- August 18 - Hugo Banzer takes power in Bolivia in a successful military coup.
- September 1 - Muammar Gaddafi enters into a political union with Egypt and Syria, known as the Federation of Arab Republics.
- September 30 - The Democratic Unionist Party is founded by Ian Paisley.
- October 27 - Mobutu Sese Seko renames the Democratic Republic of the Congo as the Republic of Zaire.
- November 9 - John List murders his wife, mother, and three children at their home in Westfield, New Jersey, before going on the run.
- November 24 - A man calling himself "D. B. Cooper" hijacks a Boeing 727 aircraft in the northwest United States, in the airspace between Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, extorting $200,000 in ransom before parachuting off the plane to an unknown fate.
- November 28 - Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi Tal is assassinated by Black September.
- December 16 - The Bangladesh Genocide comes to an end. Bangladesh formally declares independence from Pakistan.
- December 20 - Yahya Khan resigns as President of Pakistan.
- Unknown - The Japanese Red Army is founded.
- Unknown - Provo Canyon School is founded.
- January 12 - Alfredo Beltrán Leyva & Peter Madsen
- February 16 - Michael Avenatti
- March 7 - Todd Kohlhepp
- April 21 - Anwar al-Awlaki
- June 4 - Joseph Kabila
- June 27 - Dipendra of Nepal
- July 26 - Kendall Francois
- July 28 - Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
- August 14 - Chris Nelloms
- September 1 - Christina Marie Riggs
- September 26 - Susan Smith
- September 30 - Joshua Blahyi (General Butt Naked)
- November 11 - Wade Michael Page
- December 15 - Tawana Brawley
- December 19 - Amy Locane
- January 18 - Junko Furuta
- April 16 - Selena Quintanilla-Perez
- May 10 - Kim Jong-nam
- May 28 - Krista Harrison
- June 16 - Tupac Shakur
- October 8 - Phillip DeVine
- February 5 - Mátyás Rákosi
- April 21 - François Duvalier
- May 15 - Billy Reid
- June 28 - Franz Stangl
- August 29 - Nathan Leopold
- September 11 - Nikita Khrushchev
- October 10 - Nardong Putik
- April 25 - Carol Spinks
- July 8 - Darlenia Denise Johnson
- July 27 - Brenda Faye Crockett
- October 1 - Nenomoshia Yates
- November 9 - Helen, Alma, Patricia, Frederick, and John List, Jr.
- November 15 - Brenda Woodward
- November 28 - Wasfi Tal