NEAR-FATAL MOMENT: Pope John Paul lies wounded in St. Peter's Square after an assassination attempt in this May 131981 file photo.
A group of 13 civil society organisations has written to Bulgarian President Georgi Purvanov asking him to confer a high state honour on Roumyana Ougurchinska, a Bulgarian-born French journalist, whose 2007 book on the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II blamed Turkish ultra-nationalist organisation The Grey Wolves and shadowy forces linked to Western intelligence.
The group announced the request at a news conference in Sofia on June 24 2009, Bulgarian news agency BTA said.
On May 13 1981, John Paul II was seriously wounded in a shooting in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican. A Turkish citizen, Mehmet Ali Agca, was found guilty of the shooting. At the time and subsequently, reports linked Bulgarian and Soviet secret services to the assassination attempt.
Frequently mentioned in connection with the case was Sergei Antonov, a representative in Rome at the time for Bulgaria’s Balkan Airlines.
During a 2002 visit to Bulgaria, John Paul II said that he did not believe that Bulgaria had been involved in the attempt to kill him.
Ourgurchinska (46) has lived in France most of her life and has authored two other books and numerous articles for French publications.
Her book outlined the theory that Agca was not the only gunman who fired on John Paul II. There was at least one more, from the Grey Wolves organisation to which Agca belonged. An ultra-nationalist organisation, Grey Wolves was against everything it saw as communist, supposedly including a Pope who came from what was then a country in the Soviet bloc.
The book reports alleged links between the Grey Wolves and operations set up by the US Central Intelligence Agency that would have acted covertly in countries in the event of a Soviet takeover. One of these "stay behind" operations was Operation Gladio, which had an Italian unit.
For the book, the author travelled to Rome, Sofia, Paris, Frankfurt, Istanbul and Washington, including for meetings with intelligence sources. A former CIA staffer reportedly told her that the agency had been aware that Bulgaria was not involved in the plot to murder John Paul II.
REACHING OUT: Pope John Paul II talks with Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca in a cell of Rome's Rebibbia prison in this December 2 1983 file photo
On the Trail of Turkey's Terrorist Grey Wolves
By Martin A. Lee
In broad daylight on May 2, 50 armed men set upon a television station in Istanbul with gunfire. The attackers unleashed a fusillade of bullets and shouted slogans supporting Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Tansu Ciller.
The gunmen were outraged over the station's broadcast of a TV report critical of Ciller, a close U.S. ally who had come under criticism for stonewalling investigations into collusion between state security forces and Turkish criminal elements.
Miraculously, no one was injured in the attack, but the headquarters of Independent Flash TV were left pock-marked with bullet-holes and smashed windows. The gunfire also sent an unmistakable message to Turkish journalists and legislators: don't challenge Ciller and other high-level Turkish officials when they cover up state secrets.
For several months, Turkey had been awash in dramatic disclosures connecting high Turkish officials to the right-wing Grey Wolves, the terrorist band which has preyed on the region for years. In 1981, a terrorist from the Grey Wolves attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in Vatican City.
But at the center of the mushrooming Turkish scandal is whether Turkey, a strategically placed NATO country, allowed mafiosi and right-wing extremists to operate death squads and to smuggle drugs with impunity. A Turkish parliamentary commission is investigating these new charges.
The rupture of state secrets in Turkey also could release clues to other major Cold War mysteries. Besides the attempted papal assassination, the Turkish disclosures could shed light on the collapse of the Vatican bank in 1982 and the operation of a clandestine pipeline that pumped sophisticated military hardware into the Middle East -- apparently from NATO stockpiles in Europe -- in exchange for heroin sold by the Mafia in the United States.
The official Turkish inquiry was triggered by what could have been the opening scene of a spy novel: a dramatic car crash on a remote highway near the village of Susurluk, 100 miles southwest of Istanbul. On Nov. 3, 1996, three people were crushed to death when their speeding black Mercedes hit a tractor and overturned. The crash killed Husseyin Kocadag, a top police official who commanded Turkish counter-insurgency units.
But it was Kocadag's company that stunned the nation. The two other dead were Abdullah Catli, a convicted fugitive who was wanted for drug trafficking and murder, and Catli's girlfriend, Gonca Us, a Turkish beauty queen turned mafia hit-woman. A fourth occupant, who survived the crash, was Kurdish warlord Sedat Bucak, whose militia had been armed and financed by the Turkish government to fight Kurdish separatists.
At first, Turkish officials claimed that the police were transporting two captured criminals. But evidence seized at the crash site indicated that Abdullah Catli, the fugitive gangster, had been given special diplomatic credentials by Turkish authorities. Catli was carrying a government-approved weapons permit and six ID cards, each with a different name. Catli also possessed several handguns, silencers and a cache of narcotics, not the picture of a subdued criminal.
When it became obvious that Catli was a police collaborator, not a captive, the Turkish Interior Minister resigned. Several high-ranking law enforcement officers, including Istanbul's police chief, were suspended. But the red-hot scandal soon threatened to jump that bureaucratic firebreak and endanger the careers of other senior government officials.Grey Wolves Terror
The news of Catli's secret police ties were all the more scandalous given his well-known role as a key leader of the Grey Wolves, a neo-fascist terrorist group that has stalked Turkey since the late 1960s. A young tough who wore black leather pants and looked like Turkey's answer to Elvis Presley, Catli graduated from street gang violence to become a brutal enforcer for the Grey Wolves. He rose quickly within their ranks, emerging as second-in-command in 1978. That year, Turkish police linked him to the murder of seven trade-union activists and Catli went underground.Three years later, the Grey Wolves gained international notoriety when Mehmet Ali Agca, one of Catli's closest collaborators, shot and nearly killed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square on May 13, 1981. Catli was the leader of a fugitive terrorist cell that included Agca and a handful of other Turkish neo-fascists.Testifying in September 1985 as a witness at the trial of three Bulgarians and four Turks charged with complicity in the papal shooting in Rome, Catli (who was not a defendant) disclosed that he gave Agca the pistol that wounded the pontiff. Catli had previously helped Agca escape from a Turkish jail, where Agca was serving time for killing a national newspaper editor. In addition to harboring Agca, Catli supplied him with fake IDs and directed Agca's movements in West Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for several months prior to the papal attack.Catli enjoyed close links to Turkish drug mafiosi, too. His Grey Wolves henchmen worked as couriers for the Turkish mob boss Abuzer Ugurlu. At Ugurlu's behest, Catli's thugs criss-crossed the infamous smugglers' route passing through Bulgaria. Those routes were the ones favored by smugglers who reportedly carried NATO military equipment to the Middle East and returned with loads of heroin.Judge Carlo Palermo, an Italian magistrate based in Trento, discovered these smuggling operations while investigating arms-and-drug trafficking from Eastern Europe to Sicily. Palermo disclosed that large quantities of sophisticated NATO weaponry -- including machine guns, Leopard tanks and U.S.-built Cobra assault helicopters -- were smuggled from Western Europe to countries in the Middle East during the 1970s and early 1980s.According to Palermo's investigation, the weapon delivers were often made in exchange for consignments of heroin that filtered back, courtesy of the Grey Wolves and other smugglers, through Bulgaria to northern Italy. There, the drugs were received by Mafia middlemen and transported to North America. Turkish morphine base supplied much of the Sicilian-run "Pizza connection," which flooded the U.S. and Europe with high-grade heroin for several years.[While it is still not clear how the NATO supplies entered the pipeline, other investigations have provided some clues. Witnesses in the October Surprise inquiry into an alleged Republican-Iranian hostage deal in 1980 claimed that they were allowed to select weapons from NATO stockpiles in Europe for shipment to Iran.
[Iranian arms dealer Houshang Lavi claimed that he selected spare parts for Hawk anti-aircraft batteries from NATO bases along the Belgian-German border. Another witness, American arms broker William Herrmann, corroborated Lavi's account of NATO supplies going to Iran.
[Even former NATO commander Alexander Haig confirmed that NATO supplies could have gone to Iran in the early 1980s while he was secretary of state. "It wouldn't be preposterous if a nation, Germany, for example, decided to let some of their NATO stockpiles be diverted to Iran," Haig said in an interview. For more details, see Robert Parry's Trick or Treason. ]
A Vatican Mystery
Italian magistrates described the network they had uncovered as the "world's biggest illegal arms trafficking organization." They linked it to Middle Eastern drug empires and to prestigious banking circles in Italy and Europe. At the center of this operation, it appeared, was an obscure import-export firm in Milan called Stibam International Transport. The head of Stibam, a Syrian businessman named Henri Arsan, also functioned as an informant for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, according to several Italian news outlets.
With satellite offices in New York, London, Zurich, and Sofia, Bulgaria, Stibam officials recycled their profits through Banco Ambrosiano, Italy's largest private bank which had close ties to the Vatican until its sensational collapse in 1982. The collapse of Banco Ambrosiano came on the heels of the still unsolved death of its furtive president, Roberto Calvi, whose body was found hanging underneath Blackfriar's Bridge in London in June 1982. While running Ambrosiano, Calvi, nicknamed "God's banker," served as advisor to the Vatican's extensive fiscal portfolio.
At the same time in the mid- and late 1970s, Calvi's bank handled most of Stibam's foreign currency transactions and owned the building that housed Stibam's Milanese headquarters. In effect, the Vatican Bank -- by virtue of its interlocking relationship with Banco Ambrosiano -- was fronting for a gigantic contraband operation that specialized in guns and heroin.
The bristling contraband operation that traversed Bulgaria was a magnet for secret service agents on both sides of the Cold War divide. Crucial, in this regard, was the role of Kintex, a Sofia-based, state-controlled import-export firm that worked in tandem with Stibam and figured prominently in the arms trade. Kintex was riddled with Bulgarian and Soviet spies -- a fact which encouraged speculation that the KGB and its Bulgarian proxies were behind the plot against the pope.
But Western intelligence also had its hooks into the Bulgarian smuggling scene, as evidenced by the CIA's use of Kintex to channel weapons to the Nicaraguan contras in the early 1980s.
The Reagan administration jumped on the papal assassination attempt as a propaganda opportunity, rather than helping to unravel the larger mystery. Although the CIA's link to the arms-for-drugs traffic in Bulgaria was widely known in espionage circles, hard-line U.S. and Western European officials promoted instead a bogus conspiracy theory that blamed the papal shooting on a communist plot.
The so-called "Bulgarian connection" became one of the more effective disinformation schemes hatched during the Reagan era. It reinforced the notion of the Soviet Union as an evil empire. But the apparent hoax also diverted attention from extensive -- and potentially embarrassing -- ties between U.S. intelligence and the Turkey's narco-trafficking ultra-right.
Fabrication of the conspiracy theory might have even involved suborning perjury. During his September 1985 court testimony in Rome, Catli asserted that he had been approached by the West German BND spy organization, which allegedly promised him a large sum of money if he implicated the Bulgarian secret service and the KGB in the attempt on the pope's life.
Five years later, ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman disclosed that his colleagues, under pressure from CIA higher-ups, skewed their reports to try to lend credence to the contention that the Soviets were involved. "The CIA had no evidence linking the KGB to the plot," Goodman told the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Friends of the Wolves
Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, the CIA station chief in Rome at the time of the papal shooting, had previously been posted in Ankara. Clarridge was the CIA's man-on-the-spot in Turkey in the 1970s when armed bands of Grey Wolves unleashed a wave of bomb attacks and shootings that killed thousands of people, including public officials, journalists, students, lawyers, labor organizers, social democrats, left-wing activists and ethnic Kurds. [In his 1997 memoirs, A Spy for All Seasons, Clarridge makes no reference to the Turkish unrest or to the pope shooting.]
During those violent 1970s, the Grey Wolves operated with the encouragement and protection of the Counter-Guerrilla Organization, a section of the Turkish Army's Special Warfare Department. Headquartered in the U.S. Military Aid Mission building in Ankara, the Special Warfare Department received funds and training from U.S. advisors to create "stay behind" squads comprised of civilian irregulars. They were supposed to go underground and engage in acts of sabotage if the Soviets invaded.
Similar Cold War paramilitary units were established in every NATO member state, covering all non-Communist Europe like a spider web that would entangle Soviet invaders. But instead of preparing for foreign enemies, U.S.-sponsored stay-behind operatives in Turkey and several European countries used their skills to attack domestic opponents and foment violent disorders. Some of those attacks were intended to spark right-wing military coups.
In the late 1970s, former military prosecutor and Turkish Supreme Court Justice Emin Deger documented collaboration between the Grey Wolves and the government's counter-guerrilla forces as well as the close ties of the latter to the CIA. Turkey's Counter-Guerrilla Organization handed out weapons to the Grey Wolves and other right-wing terrorist groups. These shadowy operations mainly engaged in the surveillance, persecution and torture of Turkish leftists, according to retired army commander Talat Turhan, the author of three books on counter-guerrilla activities in Turkey.
But the extremists launched one wave of political violence which provoked a 1980 coup by state security forces that deposed Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. The Turkish security forces cited the need to restore order which had been shattered by rightist terrorist groups secretly sponsored by those same state security forces.
Cold War Roots
Since the earliest days of the Cold War, Turkey's strategic importance derived from its geographic position as the West's easternmost bulwark against Soviet communism. In an effort to weaken the Soviet state, the CIA also used pan-Turkish militants to incite anti-Soviet passions among Muslim Turkish minorities inside the Soviet Union, a strategy that strengthened ties between U.S. intelligence and Turkey's ultra-nationalists.
Though many of Turkish ultra-nationalists were anti-Western as well as anti-Soviet, the Cold War realpolitik compelled them to support a discrete alliance with NATO and U.S. intelligence. Among the Turkish extremists collaborating in this anti-Soviet strategy were the National Action Party and its paramilitary youth group, the Grey Wolves.
Led by Colonel Alpaslan Turkes, the National Action Party espoused a fanatical pan-Turkish ideology that called for reclaiming large sections of the Soviet Union under the flag of a reborn Turkish empire. Turkes and his revanchist cohorts had been enthusiastic supporters of Hitler during World War II. "The Turkish race above all others" was their Nazi-like credo. In a similar vein, Grey Wolf literature warned of a vast Jewish-Masonic-Communist conspiracy and its newspapers carried ads for Turkish translations of Nazi texts.
The pan-Turkish dream and its anti-Soviet component also fueled ties between the Grey Wolves and the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN), a CIA-backed coalition led by erstwhile fascist collaborators from East Europe. Ruzi Nazar, a leading figure in the Munich-based ABN, had a long-standing relationship with the CIA and the Turkish ultra-nationalists. In the 1950s and 1960s, Nazar was employed by Radio Free Europe, a CIA-founded propaganda effort.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the shifting geopolitical terrain created new opportunities -- political and financial -- for Colonel Turkes and his pan-Turkish crusaders. After serving a truncated prison term in the 1980s for his role in masterminding the political violence that convulsed Turkey, Turkes and several of his pan-Turkish colleagues were permitted to resume their political activities.
In 1992, the colonel visited his long lost Turkish brothers in newly independent Azerbaijan and received a hero's welcome. In Baku, Turkes endorsed the candidacy of Grey Wolf sympathizer Abulfex Elcibey, who was subsequently elected president of Azerbaijan and appointed a close Grey Wolf ally as his Interior Minister.
The Gang Returns
By this time, Abdullah Catli was also back in circulation after several years of incarceration in France and Switzerland for heroin trafficking. In 1990, he escaped from a Swiss jail cell and rejoined the neo-fascist underground in Turkey.
Despite his documented links to the papal shooting and other terrorist attacks, Catli was pressed into service as a death squad organizer for the Turkish government's dirty war against the Kurds who have long struggled for independence inside both Turkey and Iraq. Turkish Army spokesmen acknowledged that the Counter-Guerrilla Organization (renamed the Special Forces Command in 1992) was involved in the escalating anti-Kurdish campaign.
Turkey got a wink and a nod from Washington as a quid pro quo for cooperating with the United States during the Gulf War. Turkish jets bombed Kurdish bases inside Iraqi territory. Meanwhile, on the ground, anti-Kurdish death squads were assassinating more than 1,000 non-combatants in southeastern Turkey. Hundreds of other Kurds "disappeared" while in police custody. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the European Parliament all condemned the Turkish security forces for these abuses.
Still, there was no hard evidence that Turkey's security forces had recruited criminal elements as foot soldiers. That evidence surfaced only on Nov. 3, 1996, when Catli' died in the fateful auto accident near Susurluk. Strewn amidst the roadside wreckage was proof of what many journalists and human rights activists had long suspected -- that successive Turkish governments had protected narco-traffickers, sheltered terrorists and sponsored gangs of killers to suppress Turkish dissidents and Kurdish rebels.
Colonel Turkes confirmed that Catli had performed clandestine duties for Turkey's police and military. "On the basis of my state experience, I admit that Catli has been used by the state," said Turkes. Catli had been cooperating "in the framework of a secret service working for the good of the state," Turkes insisted.
U.S.-backed Turkish officials, including Tansu Ciller, Prime Minister from 1993-1996, also defended Catli after the car crash. "I don't know whether he is guilty or not," Ciller stated, "but we will always respectfully remember those who fire bullets or suffer wounds in the name of this country, this nation and this state."
Eighty members of the Turkish parliament have urged the federal prosecutor to file charges of criminal misconduct against Ciller, who currently serves as Turkey's Foreign Minister, as well as Deputy Prime Minister. They asserted that the Susurluk incident provided Turkey "with a historic opportunity to expose unsolved murders and the drugs and arms smuggling that have been going on in our country for years."
The scandal momentarily reinvigorated the Turkish press, which unearthed revelations about criminals and police officials involved in the heroin trade. But journalists also have been victims of death squads in recent years. The violent attack on Independent Flash TV was a reminder. Prosecutors have faced pressure, too, from superiors who are not eager to delve into state secrets. Thus far, no charges have been lodged against Ciller.
Across the Atlantic in Washington, the U.S. government has yet to acknowledge any responsibility for the Turkish Frankenstein that U.S. Cold War strategy helped to create. When asked about the Susurluk affair, a State Department spokesperson said it was "an internal Turkish matter." He declined further comment. ~
Martin A. Lee's book on neo-fascism, The Beast Reawakens, will be published by Little, Brown in July.
http://tangibleinfo.blogspot.com/2009/03/gladio-pope-assassination-cia.htmlRoumiana Ougartchinska, La vérité sur l'attentat contre Jean Paul II, Éditions Presses de la Renaissance, 2007 (ISBN 9782750902841)
Did Mehmet Ali Agca Go to the CIA School of False Flag Operations?
The man who served 19 years in an Italian prison (and 5 additional years in Turkey on unrelated charges) for shooting and attempting to assassinate the late Pope John Paul II in 1981 has been released from prison. Then, as now, the story of Mehmet Ali Agca’s supposed links to Soviet-era Bulgarian Secret Police plots to off the pontiff were taken seriously in some quarters. Back in the day, people like right-wing, fascist-sympathizing American politicos like Michael Ledeen were fans of this conspiracy theory. In fact, Ledeen has hardly given up on such mindfuck maneuvers. (It is suspected that Ledeen had a hand in the forged Nigerian yellowcake uranium documents that provided the infamous “16 words” in Bush’s 2003 State of the Union Address that prehaps provided the final straw in the Bush Administration's campaign to push the country into its aggression against Iraq.)
According to the Bulgarian journalist Krum Blagov, a tape purported as proof of the ‘Bulgarian Connection’ to the Pope shooting, and which surfaced in 1991, was fabricated for $1,000. Care to wager from which U.S. government office building in Virginia the money originated? It could prove interesting to follow the money on that one. Or maybe it was merely an internal Bulgarian thing – trying to curry favor with the West in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, trying to cement anti-Communist sentiment with anti-Communist myths, etc. However, aside from the paucity of evidence for such a thing, the assassination attempt as a Communist plot occurs to me as one of those too-perfectly Evil and too-straight forward acts on the part of the Official Enemy to be true. Along the lines of 9-11, if you press me (or even if you don’t).
Pope John Paul’s anti-Communism was well known, then as now. He was a right-wing Pole who had always promoted the West in favor of the East. But not fanatically so, it would seem; he also reserved some criticism for the West. He was certainly no more extreme than other popes, and perhaps less so than some (say, the likes of the present Pope, for instance). Why would the Communists target him? Why at a moment when the West, under the leadership of Reagan and Thatcher, was likely to renew the Cold War in any event, as they did, would they kill a symbolic leader likely to replaced by a similarly anti-Communist in any event? Why be antagonistic at that very moment for such a pitiful and questionable gain? Is it possible they could have hoped the College of Cardinals would elect a new Communist-friendly Pope once John Paul was out of the way? No. Not hardly. The evidence of a Bulgarian or Soviet link to Ali Agca was never impressive at all. The evidence that he was a right-winger associated with the CIA was always more significant. He was a member of the Turkish fascist group the Grey Wolves, a group more likely to be aligned with the CIA than the Bulgarian Stalinists. In fact, the CIA employed the Grey Wolves against the Turkish left in the 1960s and 1970s. Does it seem likely that a Grey Wolf would suddenly do the bidding of the Bulgarian Communists?
Prefiguring recent revelations about the CIA skewing evidence to support the story about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (don’t tell me you need a link about that!), ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman told "the Senate Intelligence Committee in 1990 that his CIA colleagues, under pressure from agency higher-ups, had skewed their reports to try to lend credence to the notion of a Soviet plot to murder the pope."
Just as one can reasonably question whether former CIA asset Osama Bin Laden is actually formerly so, it is right to wonder whether Mehmet Ali Agca, would-be assassin of a Pope, was ever really anything other than a CIA asset. Was Agca and the CIA coziness with the essentially Islamo-fascist Grey Wolves a foreshadowing of the relationships it had with Osama Bin Laden and the Islamo-fascists that it set up to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan later in the 1980s?
After all, what had the U.S. government to gain from killing the Pope and blaming it on the Communists? Similarly, what has the U.S. government to gain from killing 3,000 Americans and blaming it on crazed Middle Easterners?
Are these serious questions???
Just take a look around.
Roques, Valeska von - Verschwörung gegen den Papst. Warum Ali Agca auf Johannes Paul II. schoss., München, Blessing, 2001
An attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II occurred on May 13, 1981. Mehmet Ali Agca shot and seriously wounded the Pope in the Vatican City's St. Peter's Square. Agca was convicted for this crime in July 1981, and was deported to Turkey in 2001, after serving 20 years imprisonment.
Beginning in August 1980 Agca began criss-crossing the Mediterranean region, changing passports and identities, perhaps to hide his point of origin in Sofia, Bulgaria. He entered Rome on May 10, 1981, coming by train from Milan.
According to Agca's later testimony, he met with three accomplices in Rome, one a fellow Turk and two Bulgarians, with operation being commanded by Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy. He said that he was assigned this mission by Turkish mafioso Bekir Çelenk in Bulgaria. Le Monde diplomatique, however, has alleged that the assassination attempt was organized by Abdullah Çatl? "in exchange for the sum of 3 million marks", paid by Bekir Çelenk to the Grey Wolves.
According to Agca, the plan was for him and the back-up gunman Oral Çelik to open fire in St. Peter's Square and escape to the Bulgarian embassy under the cover of the panic generated by a small explosion. On May 13 they sat in the square, writing postcards waiting for the Pope to arrive. When the Pope passed, Agca fired several shots and critically wounded him, but was grabbed by a nun and several other spectators and prevented from finishing the assassination or escaping. Four bullets hit John Paul II, two of them lodging in his lower intestine, the others hitting his left hand and right arm. Two bystanders were also hit by stray assassin's bullets; Ann Odre, of Buffalo, New York, was struck in the chest while Rose Hill, of Jamaica, was slightly wounded in the arm. Çelik panicked and fled without setting off his bomb or opening fire. The Pope, who lost nearly three-quarters of his blood and thus suffered shock from near-exsanguination, underwent five hours of emergency intestinal surgery- which required transfusions and a temporary colostomy- at the Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic after a noted gastrointestinal surgeon, the late Dr. Francesco Crucitti, rushed across Rome to the hospital operating room after coming across a policeman. Agca, a professional assassin, when he first saw the Pope in Rome's Rebibbia Prison a few years later asked him how he had survived.
Agca was sentenced, in July 1981, to life imprisonment in Italy for the assassination attempt, but was pardoned by president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in June 2000 at the Pope's request. He was then extradited to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the 1979 murder of left-wing journalist Abdi I.pekçi and two bank raids carried out in the 1970s. Despite a plea for early release in November 2004, a Turkish court announced that he would not be eligible for release until 2010. Nonetheless he was released on parole on January 12, 2006. However, on January 20, 2006, the Turkish Supreme Court ruled that his time served in Italy could not be deducted from his Turkish sentence and he was returned to jail.
Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to "pray for my brother (Agca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." In 1983, he and Agca met and spoke privately at the prison where Agca was being held. The Pope was also in touch with Agca's family over the years, meeting his mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later.
Although Agca had been quoted as saying that "to me [the Pope] was the incarnation of all that is capitalism", and attempting to murder him, Agca developed a friendship with the pontiff. In early February 2005, during the Pope's illness, Agca sent a letter to the Pope wishing him well and also warning him that the world would end soon.
Inspired by this act of forgiveness, Christian music artist Steve Taylor wrote the song, "To Forgive," which appeared on his 1985 release, "On the Fritz."
Motivations for the assassination attempt
Several theories exist concerning Mehmet Ali Agca's assassination attempt. One, strongly advocated since the early 1980s by Michael Ledeen among others, is that the assassination attempt had originated from Moscow and that the KGB instructed the Bulgarian and East German secret services to carry out the mission. The Bulgarian Secret Service was allegedly instructed by the KGB to assassinate the Pope because of his support of Poland's Solidarity movement, seeing it as one of the most significant threats to Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe.
Agca himself has given multiple conflicting statements on the assassination at different times. Attorney Antonio Marini stated: "Agca has manipulated all of us, telling hundreds of lies, continually changing versions, forcing us to open tens of different investigations". Originally Agca claimed to be a member of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), but they denied any ties to him.
The "Bulgarian Connection"
Then KGB Director Yuri Andropov, was convinced that the Pope John Paul II’s election was the product of an Anglo-German conspiracy orchestrated by Zbigniew Brzezinski to undermine Soviet hegemony in largely Catholic Poland and ultimately to precipitate the collapse of the entire Soviet Union. The Pope’s announcement of a pilgrimage to Warsaw fueled Andropov’s apprehension, with Andropov issuing a secret memorandum to Soviet schoolteachers:
The Pope is our enemy. . . . Due to his uncommon skills and great sense of humor he is dangerous, because he charms everyone, especially journalists. Besides, he goes for cheap gestures in his relations with the crowd, for instance, [the] puts on a highlander’s hat, shakes all hands, kisses children, etc. . . . It is modeled on American presidential campaigns. . . . Because of the activities of the Church in Poland our activities designed to atheize the youth not only cannot diminish but must intensely develop. . . . In this respect all means are allowed and we cannot afford sentiments.
Ali Agca had made several trips to Sofia, Bulgaria, and stayed in a hotel favored by the Bulgarian (DS). In Rome he had also had contacts with a Bulgarian agent whose cover was the Bulgarian national airline office. Soon after the shooting, Sergei Antonov, a Bulgarian working in Rome for Balkan Air, was arrested based on Agca's testimony and accused of being the Bulgarian agent who masterminded the plot. In 1986, after a three-year trial, he was found not guilty. According to the CIA's chief of staff in Turkey, Paul Henze, he later stated that in Sofia, he was once approached by the Bulgarian Secret Service and Turkish mafiosi, who offered him three million German mark to assassinate the Pope.
The Bulgarians chose Agca to supply themselves with plausible deniability; choosing a member of the Grey Wolves that had been involved with the local KGB in drug smuggling routes through Bulgaria to Western Europe would distance themselves because of the implausibility of the link.
The Bulgarian secret services have always protested their alleged involvement and argued that Agca's story was an anti-Communist plant placed by the Italian secret service (SISMI), and the CIA.
According to Ferdinando Imposimato, an Italian prosecutor in charge of the assassination investigation, Agca has confirmed the KGB and the Bulgarian involvement during their many private conversations in 1997-2000, tying it to the mysterious 1998 murder of Colonel Alois Estermann, a Swiss Guard. Ferdinando Imposimato has alleged a link with the East German secret service.
The Mitrokhin Commission's claims
Further information: Italian Mitrokhin Commission
According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, documents recovered from former East German intelligence services confirm the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II was ordered by the Soviet KGB and assigned to Bulgarian and East German agents with the Stasi to coordinate the operation and cover up the traces afterwards, however, Markus Wolf, former Stasi spy-master, has denied any links, and claimed the files had already been sent in 1995.
In March 2006, the controversial Mitrokhin Commission, set up by Silvio Berlusconi and headed by Forza Italia senator Paolo Guzzanti, supported once again the Bulgarian theory, which had been denounced by John Paul II during his travel to Bulgaria. Senator Guzzanti claimed that "leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the assassination attempt", alleging that "the leadership of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate Pope John Paul" because of his support for Solidarity, relaying "this decision to the military secret services" (and not the KGB). The report's claims were based on recent computer analysis of photographs that purported to demonstrate Antonov's presence in St Peter's Square during the shooting and on information brought by the French anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, a controversial figure whose last feat was to indict Rwandese president Paul Kagame, claiming he had deliberately provoked the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against his own ethnic group in order to take the power. According to Le Figaro, Bruguière, who is in close contacts as well with Moscow as with Washington DC, including intelligence agents, has been accused by many of his colleagues of "privileging the reason of state over law."
Both Russia and Bulgaria condemned the report. "For Bulgaria, this case closed with the court decision in Rome in March 1986," Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said, while also recalling the Pope's comments during his May 2002 visit to Bulgaria. Senator Guzzanti said that the commission had decided to re-open the report's chapter on the assassination attempt in 2005, after the Pope wrote about it in his last book, Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums. The Pope wrote that he was convinced the shooting was not Agca's initiative and that "someone else masterminded it and someone else commissioned it". The Mitrokhin Commission also claimed current Prime minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, was the "KGB's man in Italy". At the end of December 2006, Mario Scaramella, one of the main informer of senator Guzzanti, was arrested and charged, among other things, of defamation. Rome's prosecutor Pietro Salvitti, in charge of the investigations concerning Mario Scaramella, cited by La Repubblica, showed that Nicolò Pollari, head of SISMI, the Italian military intelligence agency and indicted in the Imam Rapito affair, as well as SISMI n°2, Marco Mancini, arrested in July 2006 for the same reason, were some of the informers, alongside Mario Scaramella, of senator Paolo Guzzanti. Beside targeting Romano Prodi and his staff, this "network", according to Pietro Salvitti's words, also aimed at defaming General Giuseppe Cucchi (current director of the Cesis), Milan's judges Armando Spataro, in charge of the Imam Rapito case, and Guido Salvini, as well as La Reppublica reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe D'Avanzo, who discovered the Yellowcake forgery affair. The investigation also showed a connection between Scaramella and the CIA, in particular through Filippo Marino, one of Scaramella's closest partners since the 1990s and co-founder of the ECPP, who lives today in the US. Marino has acknowledged in an interview an association with former and active CIA officers, including Robert Lady, former CIA station chief in Milan, indicted by prosecutor Armando Spataro for having coordinated the abduction of Abu Omar, the Imam Rapito affair
Some people, notably Edward S. Herman, co-author with Frank Brodhead of The Rise and Fall of the Bulgarian Connection (1986), and Michael Parenti, felt Agca's story was dubious, noting that Agca made no claims of Bulgarian involvement until he had been isolated in solitary confinement and visited by Italian Military Intelligence (SISMI) agents. On September 25, 1991, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman (now Senior Fellow at the Center for International Policy) revealed that his colleagues, following hierarchical orders, had falsified their analysis in order to support the accusation. He declared to the US Senate intelligence committee that "the CIA hadn't any proof" concerning this alleged "Bulgarian connection" Neither the Severino Santiapichi court, nor the investigation by judge Franco Ionta, found evidence that that SISMI planted Agca's story. A French lawyer, Christian Roulette, who authored books blaming Western intelligence agencies for the assassination attempt, testified in court that documentary evidence he referred to actually did not exist.
The Bulgarian secret services have always protested their alleged involvement and argued that Agca's story was an anti-Communist plant placed by the Grey Wolves, the Italian secret service, and the CIA - all three of whom had co-operated in NATO's secret Gladio network. Gladio was at the time involved in Italy's strategy of tension, also followed in Turkey by Counter-Guerrilla, the Turkish branch of Gladio. The Pope's assassination would hereafter have taken place in this frame. Edward Herman has argued that Michael Ledeen, who was involved in the Iran-Contra Affair and had alleged ties to the Italian P2 masonic lodge also linked to Gladio, was employed by the CIA to propagate the Bulgarian theory. Indeed, Le Monde diplomatique alleged that Abdullah Çatl?, a leader of the Grey Wolves, had organized the assassination attempt "in exchange for the sum of 3 million German Marks" for the Grey Wolves. In Rome, Catli declared to the judge in 1985 "that he had been contacted by the BND, the German intelligence agency, which would have promised him a nice sum of money if he implicated the Russian and Bulgarian services in the assassination attempt against the Pope". According to colonel Alparslan Türkes, the founder of the Grey Wolves, "Catli has cooperated in the frame of a secret service working for the good of the state".
Another theory, described in the Gordon Thomas's book Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors, rejects the KGB, Turkish and Bulgarian connections. According to Thomas, a British specialist on intelligence, the assassination was ordered by Iranian Ayatollah Khomeini as a first act of Jihad, the Muslim holy war, against Christianity and the Occident. This theory is based on the following elements: The Grey Wolves organization was pro-Iranian; Mehmet Ali Agca was trained in Iran; the text of a 1979 letter sent to the press by Mehmet Ali Agca just after he killed a Turkish journalist used formulas such as "Supreme Commander of the Crusaders" that are directly taken from Khomeini's style, while Agca is nearly illiterate. The 1983 Pope visit to his aggressor in jail was aimed to confirm this theory, just uncovered by the Israeli intelligence agency.
A Vatican connection?
On June 26, 2000 Pope John Paul II released the "Third Secret of Fatima" in which he said that Agca's assassination attempt was the fulfillment of this Secret. May 13 (the date of the assassination attempt) is the anniversary of the first apparition of the Virgin Mary to the three children of Fatima, something the pope has always regarded as significant, attributing his survival on that day to her protection. Some doubt the Church's full disclosure of the contents of this Secret, believing that it actually predicted the Apocalypse. While in prison on remand, Agca was widely reported to have developed an obsession with Fatima and during the trial claimed that he was the second coming of Jesus Christ and called on the Vatican to release the Third Secret.
On March 31, 2005, just two days prior to the Pope's death, Agca gave an interview to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica. He claimed to be working on a book about the assassination attempt. La Repubblica quoted Agca claiming at length that he had accomplices in the Vatican who helped him with the assassination attempt, saying "the devil is inside Vatican's wall". He also said:
"Many calculating politicians are worried about what revealing the complete truth would do. Some of them fear that the Vatican will have a spiritual collapse like the Berlin Wall. Let me ask, why don't the CIA, the Sismi, the Sisde and other intelligence agencies reveal the truth about the Orlandi case?
Q: They say it's because there is still some uncertainty in the Emanuela Orlandi case.
Agca: In the 1980's, certain Vatican supporters believed that I was the new messiah and to free me they organized all the intrigue about Emanuela Orlandi and the other incidents they won't reveal."
Emanuela Orlandi, the daughter of a Vatican employee, disappeared at age 15 on June 22, 1983. Anonymous phone calls offered her release in exchange for the release of Agca. Archbishop Paul Marcinkus was alleged to be part of the kidnapping, although no charges were ever laid.
A week after this interview, Associated Press reported Agca denying having made such claims.
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* Jon Blair. (2005). Zero Hour - The Plot to Kill the Pope. 3BM Television. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0397850/.
* Records of the RFE Rome Bureau on Antonov trial (boxes 16-19), Open Society Archives