Tue, Jan 10, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Assassination attempt on former pope still a mystery

AP , ANKARA

Mehmet Ali Agca shocked the world with his assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II, but his motive for the attack -- and whether he had help -- remains shrouded in mystery nearly 25 years later.

Agca, who will be freed from prison in his native Turkey this week, has only fueled conspiracy theories with his inconsistent and at times contradictory remarks about the May 13, 1981, shooting in Rome's St. Peter's Square.

Minutes after his arrest, Agca declared he had acted alone. But within days, police believed someone had given him money and other support.

In an interview last year with the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica, Agca made contradictory remarks about his attempt on John Paul's life. He initially said Vatican prelates helped him carry out the shooting, adding: "The devil is within the Vatican."

He then reportedly said in the same interview that "nobody in the world knew of my attempt."

Some have speculated that agents from Bulgaria helped plot the assassination attempt because of that country's ties with the Soviet Union, which reportedly was alarmed by the pope's support for the Solidarity trade union in Poland.

Others have pinned blame on the Soviets, who reportedly worried the Polish pope would stir uprisings against communism across Eastern Europe.

Agca was an inconsistent witness. During his trial, he told the court that some of his testimony had been lies, often contradicted himself, and was given to outbursts that he was Jesus Christ.

Agca later returned to his original story that he acted alone and implied that the conspiracy theory was a way to win early release.

Italy pardoned Agca and extradited him to Turkey in June 2000 after serving almost 20 years in prison for the papal assassination attempt.

Upon his return to Turkey from Italy, Agca was immediately sent to prison to serve a life sentence, which amounts to 36 years under Turkish law, for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979.

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