Mehmet Ali Agca, the would-be assassin of John Paul II, will be released from prison on Jan. 18 after serving 28 years behind bars.
The 51-year-old Turk, who was originally sentenced to life imprisonment for gunning down the late pontiff in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, plans to publish his memoirs as a free man, according to his friends. He also has dreams of coming to live in Italy and paying his respects at John Paul II’s tomb at the Vatican, the Italian daily La Repubblica reported today.
In 2000, Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pardoned Agca at John Paul II’s request. He was then extradited to Turkey where he has since served jail time for another crime: the murder of Abdi Ipekçi, a left wing journalist killed in 1979. Agca was initially released on parole in 2006, but Turkish authorities later ruled that he would not be eligible for full release until 2010.
It’s still not known for sure whether Agca acted alone or whether he was obeying communist orders when he tried to kill the Pope. Several theories put forward since the early 1980s point the finger at Moscow, alleging that the KGB instructed the Bulgarian and East German secret services to carry out the mission.
The KGB is said to have gone ahead with the assassination because of the Pope’s support for Poland’s Solidarity movement which the Soviets saw as a major threat.
Others have accused Leonid Brezhnev, then-general secretary of the Communist Party, of giving the order — an accusation denied by the Russian and Bulgarian governments. One researcher has pointed the finger at the late Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran who, he claimed, wished to use it to start a jihad against the West. Still others have blamed CIA operatives for hatching the assassination plot.
Although he never explicitly speculated who he thought might be behind the attempt on his life, John Paul II was always convinced Agca wasn’t working alone. “Someone else planned it, someone else commissioned it,” he wrote in his 2005 book “Memory and Identity: Conversations between Millenniums.”
However, all that is really known is that Agca was a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization and that, according to Agca's later testimony, he agreed to carry out the assassination attempt for a large sum of money to be paid to the nationalist group.
The hope is that Agca's release will shed more light on about what really happened that day and how the attempt on John Paul II’s life transpired, although it’s debatable how much of Agca's own story can be relied on. The convicted felon is unpredictable, has made outlandish claims (some of which could, of course, be true), and has given contradictory statements in the past.
Soon after the attempt on his life, Pope John Paul II asked people to "pray for my brother (Agca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." The late pontiff also made the point of visiting Agca in prison in 1983 and was in touch with his family, meeting separately his mother and brother a few years later.
In recent years, Agca converted to Christianity and says he is a completely different person from the 23 year old who tried to kill the Pope.
He has since sought to live in Poland once he is released and, more recently, has expressed a desire to live in Portugal so he could be close to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, although the Portuguese government have rejected his request.
Some believe that the Third Secret of Fatima, an apparition of the Virgin Mary which appeared to three shepherd children in 1917, foretold the attempted assassination when it mentions “a Bishop dressed in white” who was killed by a group of soldiers on a mountain top.
For now, Agca is focusing on his plans for after his release. There is talk of newspaper and TV deals and, according to La Repubblica, the former assassin has written to Dan Brown, the author of "The Da Vinci Code," in the hope of writing a novel — his own sort of “Vatican Code.” The project could, perhaps, then end up being made into a film.
But some doubt whether anything new will be disclosed, while others believe it to be wrong for Agca to make money out of his crime.
Speaking on Italian television yesterday, John Paul II’s press spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that his impression was that Ali Agca only knows up to “a certain level, beyond which he knows nothing.” As for whether his release from prison might bring more details to light, Navarro-Valls said: "I don’t think we will learn anything beyond what has already been said. I can only refer to the letters that I wrote and which I still have. "
Meanwhile Maurizio Gasparri, a centre-right former Italian minister of communications, said: "It is shameful to enrich a criminal in this way. Terrorists and murderers should remain silent and not become rich stars."
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