Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Mehmet Ali Agca
Mehmet Ali Ağca (born January 9, 1958) is a Turkish militant who shot Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, in an assassination attempt. Following the shooting, John Paul asked people to, "...pray for my brother (Ağca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." In 1983, John Paul and his would be assassin Ağca met and spoke privately at the Italian prison where Ağca was being held.
As a youth, Ağca became a petty criminal and a member of street gangs in his home town. He later became a smuggler in the lucrative trade between Turkey and Bulgaria. He then went to Syria where he received two months of training in weaponry and terrorist tactics. He claims this was paid for by the Bulgarian government. After this training he went to work for the far-right Turkish Grey Wolves, who were at the time destabilizing Turkey, which led to a military government. Opinions differ on whether the Grey Wolves were being used by the CIA or the Bulgarian Secret Service to that end. Ağca describes himself as a mercenary of no political orientation who was willing to do anything for enough money. In 1979, under orders from the Grey Wolves, he killed the left-wing newspaper editor Abdi İpekçi in Istanbul. He was caught due to an informant and was sentenced to life in prison. He soon escaped, with the help of the Grey Wolves.
Plot against the Pope
Ağca fled to Bulgaria. He later once stated that in Sofia, he was approached by the Bulgarian Secret Service , who offered him three million German Marks to assassinate the Pope. Ağca later renounced this theory of the events; he has repeatedly renounced his earlier statements (including his earlier renunciations), changing his position on the assasination many times. Propenents of this theory of KGB involvement allege that the Bulgarians were instructed by the KGB to assassinate the Pope because of his support of Poland's Solidarity movement. Many people, most notably Edward Herman and Michael Parenti, feel Ağca's story is dubious at best, noting that Agca made no claims of Bulgarian involvement until he had been isolated in solitary confinement and visited by Italian Military Intelligence (SISME) agents, who alledgedly had already postulated a theory of Bulgarian involvement. Additionally, many of Agca's specific claims of times and dates when he met the Bulgarian embassy attaches were proven false. No definite motive for the assasination has been established.
Beginning in August 1980 Ağca began criss crossing the Mediterranean region, changing passports and identities, likely to hide his point of origin in Sofia. He entered Rome on May 10, 1981 coming by train from Milan.
In Rome he claimed that he met up with three accomplices, one fellow Turk and two Bulgarians. According to Ağca the entire operation was commanded by Zilo Vassilev , the Bulgarian military attaché in Rome.The plan was for Ağca, and the back-up gunman Oral Celik , to fire from St. Peter's Square and then detonate a panic bomb to create chaos and allow the group to escape to the Bulgarian embassy. On May 13 they sat in the square writing postcards waiting for the Pope to arrive. When he passed, Ağca fired two shots at the Pope, however he was grabbed by the members of the crowd and prevented from continuing to fire or escape. Celik panicked and did not set off his bomb or fire at the Pope, instead disappearing into the crowd.
Originally Ağca claimed to be a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, but they denied any ties to him.
Soon after, Sergei Antonov , one of the Bulgarians, was arrested based on Ağca's testimony. After a three-year trial he was found not guilty for want of evidence. Ağca's testimony proved to be often contradictory and occasionally descended into insane ranting, including claims of being Jesus. The Bulgarians have always insisted they were innocent and argued that Ağca's story was an anti-Communist plant placed by the far-right Grey Wolves, the Italian secret service, and the CIA. Edward Herman, in his book on the so-called Bulgarian connection, alleged that the CIA employed Michael Ledeen, now a well-known neo-conservative, to be a vocal proponent of the theory that the Bulgarian Secret Service were behind the assasination attempt.
Ağca is quoted as saying "To me [the pope] was the incarnation of all that is capitalism." Despite a plea for early release, in November 2004, a Turkish court announced that he will not be eligible to leave prison until 2010.
On June 26, 2000 John Paul II released the so-called "Third Secret of Fatima" in which he explained that Ağca's assassination attempt was the fulfillment of this Third Secret, though some theorists doubt the Vatican Church's full disclosure of the contents of the letter. Prior to its release, some believed that the letter might predict the apocalypse. The Rev. Nicholas Gruner, who runs the Fatima Center Web site, said from Fort Erie, Ontario, that he had questions about the authenticity of the handwritten letter.
During his visit to Bulgaria in May 2002 Pope John Paul II declared that he had never believed in the so called Bulgarian connection .
In early February of 2005, during the Pope's illness, Ağca sent a letter to the Pope wishing him well and also warning him that the world would end soon. Later in February 2005, Pope John Paul II published his book "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums" which includes his account of surviving the assassination attempt in 1981. The book is essentially a transcript of conversations he had in Polish with his close friends, political philosopher Krzysztof Michalski and the late Rev. Jozef Tishner, in 1993 at his summer residence near Rome.
On March 31, 2005, with Pope John Paul II's death imminent, Ağca gave an interview to the Italian newspaper Repubblica . An English translation with some commentary can be found here. Ağca claims to be working on a book about the assassination attempt, to be published later in 2005. Repubblica quoted Ağca claiming at length that he had accomplices in the Vatican who helped him with the assassination attempt. However, a week later, Turkish Weekly reported Ağca denying having made such claims .
When the Pope died on April 2, 2005, Ağca's brother Adnan gave an interview in which he said that Mehmet Ali and his entire family were grieving, and that the pope was a great friend to them. On April 5, 2005 CNN stated that Ağca would want to visit the Pope's funeral on April 8, 2005. However Turkish authorities have rejected his request to leave prison to attend the pontiff's funeral.
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