FaithWorld

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul

January 13, 2010
pope agca prison

Pope John Paul meets Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome's Rebibbia prison on 27 Dec 1983/Vatican photo

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul in 1981, is due to be released from prison in Turkey on January 18.  In a rambling statement issued by his lawyers on Wednesday, he called for a “new American Empire” championing peace and democracy.

Here are some facts about Agca and the enigmatic path that took him from life as a small-time gangster in Turkey to the would-be assassin on St. Peter’s Square.

* Early Days

– Mehmet Ali Agca was born on Jan. 9, 1958 to a poor Turkish family. As a boy, he was involved in petty crime and smuggling between Turkey and Bulgaria. He becomes a  member of the militant far-right Grey Wolves group as a teenager. In 1979, he murders Abdi Ipekci, a left-wing journalist. He is sentenced to life in prison but escapes with the help of right-wing comragdes after six months and flees to Bulgaria.

– He roams around several Mediterranean and Balkan countries and arrives in Italy in 1981.

* Lone gunman or hired gun?

– On May 13, 1981, Agca shoots Pope John Paul II several times while the pope is riding in an open jeep at the start of  his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square. Agca is immediately apprehended and arrested. The pope narrowly survives and spends weeks in hospital.  Three days after the shooting, he forgives Agca during a live radio broadcast from his hospital bed.

pope shot

Pope John Paul after being shot on 13 May 1981/Vatican photo

At the time of the shooting, events in the pope’s Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989. The pope was a strong supporter of the dissident Solidarity trade union in Poland and many people began suspecting that the shooting was part of a larger conspiracy to silence the pope. At the time, John Paul was threatening the stability of the Soviet bloc and had reportedly told the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that if  Moscow invaded Poland he would throw his weight behind a resistance movement.

–  In July, 1981, an Italian court finds Agca guilty of trying to assasinate the pope and sentences him to life in prison.

–  In December, 1983,  the pope visits Agca in his Rome prison cell and the two chat privately. The contents of that conversation are never disclosed.

*Bulgarian Connection trial

–   At a second trial in 1986, Italian prosecutors fail to prove their charges that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union to counter the pope’s support for Solidarity.  The 1986 trial was a spectacle, with Agca changing his version of events several times. During the trial, Agca speaks mysteriously about wanting to know the Third Secret of Fatima, the last of three messages that the Virgin Mary was said to have given to three shepherd children during a vision in 1917 in Portugal

– In May, 2000, the Vatican reveals the Fatima secret, saying it predicted the assassination attempt on the pope and the persecution of communism.– The judicial probe of the assassination attempt formally ends in 1997, leaving many unanswered questions.

agca 2006

Mehmet Ali Agca during a short release from an Istanbul prison on 12 Jan 2006/Fatih Saribas

– In June, 2000,  Italy pardons Agca for the pope shooting and extradites him to his native Turkey to serve the remainder of a term for the Ipekci murder.

– Pope John Paul dies on April 2, 2005.

–  In 2006, an Italian parliamentary investigative commission says in a report that leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the assassination attempt against the pope.  “This commission believes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the leadership of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate Pope John Paul,” the report said.

– On January 12, 2006, Agca is briefly released from prison in Turkey but, after protests, the country’s supreme court orders him to be jailed again.

– On Jan 13, 2010, Agca’s lawyers issue a rambling pre-release statement from him condemning terrorism as “the Evil of the Devil” and called for a “new American Empire that must become the center and the leader of international democracy, peace and freedom.” He says that after his release, he will answer questions abaout the attack on the pope, including whether the Kremlin used the Bulgarian government in the assassination attempt.

Follow FaithWorld on Twitter at RTRFaithWorld

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/