Man who shot Pope ‘will be in grave danger after release’

The Italian judge who investigated the 1981 murder attempt on John Paul II has warned the Turkish would-be assassin that his life will be “in grave danger” when he is released from jail because he “knows too much”.

Mehmet Ali Agca, 48, is to be released from Kartal high security jail in Turkey for good behaviour, perhaps as early as tomorrow.

He served 19 years of a life sentence in Italy for the assassination attempt before being pardoned by the late Pope in 2000. He was then extradited to Turkey to serve a separate ten-year sentence for murdering a Turkish journalist in 1979.

A clearly irritated Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, said of the news: “No one told us anything.” But Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul’s former secretary and now archbishop of Krakow, said the late Pope would have approved of the early release. “He is praying for him from heaven, and I am too,” Monsignor Dziwisz said.

Ferdinando Imposimato, the retired judge who led the initial inquiry and has since conducted his own research, said that 25 years after the shooting in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, “many mysteries remain”.

He told The Times that he remained “120 per cent convinced” that the murder had been “planned in Moscow”.

“The Kremlin started to plot the Pope’s murder the moment he was elected in October 1978,” Signor Imposimato said.

Soviet leaders had sought – in vain – to prevent the Polish Pope from inspiring the anti-Communist revolt in his native country which in the end sparked the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989.

The untold secrets however included the alleged involvement in the conspiracy of East European agents in the Vatican as well as of their Bulgarian and Turkish accomplices, and the alleged presence on the square of other gunmen. “I am convinced that once he is free, Agca’s life will be in grave danger because he knows many truths about the plot,” the judge said.

Agca, a “cold-eyed killer” and a member of the extreme right wing Turkish Grey Wolves, was arrested on St Peter’s Square minutes after the shooting with the smoking gun in his hand.

A court sentenced him to life imprisonment two months later. Three Turks and three Bulgarians went on trial in 1986 for involvement in the plot, but were acquitted for lack of sufficient evidence.

In his memoir Memory and Identity, published shortly before he died last year, John Paul II – who forgave Agca and prayed with him in his cell in 1983 – said that his life was saved by “divine grace”.

“Agca knew how to shoot, and he certainly shot to kill. Yet it was as if someone was guiding and deflecting the bullet,” he wrote.

But the Pope also referred to the assassination attempt as “one of the last convulsions” of the ideological struggles of the 20th century, adding that Agca had clearly not acted alone. John Paul absolved Bulgaria of involvement when he visited Sofia in 2002. But Signor Imposimato said Agca had been in Sofia in the run up to the murder attempt.

In his initial testimony Agca implicated Moscow and Bulgaria. He later however retracted this, making out he was an unstable loner. Signor Imposimato said this change occurred after a visit to Agca in jail by supposed lawyers who in reality were Bulgarian agents who had threatened him.

Senator Paolo Guzzanti, who chairs the recently revived Parliamentary inquiry into the 1981 attempt, said he hoped Agca would also clear up the mystery of the disappearance in June 1983 of Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican official.

She is believed to have been kidnapped by an Italian criminal gang acting in collusion with the conspirators in an attempt to put pressure on the Vatican and Italy to release Agca.

No deal was struck, and some believe that Signorina Orlandi was killed. Others, however ,believe that she was taken to Turkey, where she married and converted to Islam. Signor Guzzanti said Italy would offer to “protect” Agca if he “told all”.


1. Who organised the murder attempt? Was it the KGB? Or the GRU, Soviet military intelligence? Did Sergei Antonov, the Bulgarian manager of Balkan Air’s office in Rome, direct the operation as prosecutors alleged? (he was acquitted).

2. Did Ali Agca act alone? Investigators say there were at least six shots, but Agca said he fired two. Photographs of the scene suggest that at least one of Agca’s fellow “Grey Wolves”, Oral Celik, was also on St Peter’s Square that day.

3. Were there Soviet agents in the Vatican? There are persistent reports that secret agents of the KGB, the Polish secret service and the Stasi, the East German security service, had infiltrated the Pope’s entourage.

4. Where did Agca get the gun, a .22 Browning? He claimed under interrogation to have got it from a “student” in Sofia in the summer of 1980.

5. What happened to Emanuela Orlandi, kidnapped in 1983 at the age of 15 to force Italy to hand over Agca in exchange? Is she dead? Living in Italy under an assumed name? Living in Turkey?

6. Why is Agca obssessed with the Third Secret of Fatima, which allegedly foretold a world conflagration, perhaps between Christianity and Islam? Why did John Paul donate the bullet extracted from his abdomen to the Fatima shrine in Portugal?

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Times, UK
Jan. 9, 2006
Richard Owen

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday January 9, 2006.
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