Gunman who shot pope extradited to Turkey

ANKARA, Turkey - The gunman who shot Pope John Paul II arrived Wednesday in Turkey where he is to finish serving a 10-year prison sentence for assassinating a newspaper editor, a killing that like the shooting of the pope remains shrouded in mystery.

Italy pardoned Mehmet Ali Agca on Tuesday after he served almost 20 years in prison for the 1981 attempted assassination of John Paul II in St. Peter's Square.

Agca arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport, escorted by a team of Turkish security agents. He was immediately questioned by authorities.

Turkish Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Turk said Agca will serve his 10-year sentence for the 1979 assassination of newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci, minus the 158 days that he was in prison in Turkey before escaping to Europe.

Prosecutors were also expected to arraign Agca on charges related to a 1979 robbery. ''He will serve his term and be tried for the other crime,'' Turk said.

Agca's extradition leaves many questions unresolved.

Agca at first said that he acted alone in shooting the pope, but later said that the Bulgarian secret service and the KGB were behind the attack.

Similarly, there are mysteries surrounding the shooting of Ipekci. Agca confessed to killing the left-wing newspaper editor but later retracted his statements. Ipekci was shot nine times by Agca and a second gunman, who remains unidentified.

A Turkish court sentenced Agca to death in absentia a year after his escape. A 1991 amnesty reduced the sentence to 10 years in prison.

During the trial, a Turkish soldier said ultra-nationalists paid him to provide Agca with a military uniform and sneak him out of prison. Agca reportedly identified with the Gray Wolves, a militant group that fought street battles against leftists in the 1970s.

When asked who was behind the killing of Ipekci, Agca alluded to the involvement of underground groups.

''I cannot say anything more because some hidden power is involved,'' Agca told an Italian judge.

The Ipekci family's lawyer, Turgut Kazan, said he feared that Agca would be freed before serving the remainder of his 10-year sentence.

''There will always be people who will protect him,'' Kazan told NTV television. ''Some circles will have a new hero that they will be proud of.''

Many ultra-nationalists regard Agca as a hero for having killed Ipekci, one of the country's most prominent left-wing columnists.

''At this point, it is important to learn what actually transpired,'' Ilter Turan of Istanbul Bilgi University said. ''I think many citizens find it difficult to believe that this man was simply doing things alone.''

The same was true in Italy, where prosecutors feared he would take the secrets of the pope's shooting back to Turkey.

''Ali Agca was the pawn in a plot, but being the last ring of a chain, he didn't know everything,'' prosecutor Rosario Priore told the ANSA news agency.

Agca, a militant with right-wing Turkish groups, was first linked to the pope in November 1979 during a visit to Turkey by John Paul. On the run after his prison escape, Agca sent a letter to Turkish newspapers in which he threatened to kill John Paul. He said later that only tight security kept him from doing so.

He accomplished the shooting during the pope's general audience on May 13, 1981. Arrested at the scene, Agca contended he acted alone.

He changed his story a few years later, weaving a tale of international terrorism that led to the trial of three Bulgarians and four other Turks on charges of complicity in the attempt to kill the pope. They were acquitted in 1986.

Investigators were convinced that Soviet bloc spy agencies worried the Polish pope would stir uprisings against communism across Eastern Europe. But Agca was an inconsistent witness. 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.

Bulgaria and the Soviet Union had consistently denied involvement.

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


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