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Mehmet Ali Ağca's Attempted Assassination of Pope John Paul II


Throughout history, certain events etch themselves into collective memory, leaving indelible marks upon the consciousness of societies worldwide. One such event transpired on May 13, 1981, when Mehmet Ali Ağca, a Turkish assailant with a troubled past, attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II. This momentous episode unfolded within the sanctified confines of St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, sending shockwaves across the globe and sparking profound introspection regarding the intersection of faith, politics, and personal vendettas.

Agca was a 23-year-old militant of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves, on the run from Turkish justice facing murder charges, when he resurfaced in Saint Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, and fired on the pope driving by in an open vehicle

Mehmet Ali Ağca's journey to infamy was paved with a tapestry of criminal exploits and ideological fervour. Born in 1958 in the Turkish province of Malatya, Ağca's early years were characterised by a tumultuous blend of delinquency and radicalization. His foray into extremism saw him aligning with the militant Grey Wolves organization, a far-right nationalist group notorious for its violent tactics. In February 1979, things took a dark turn in Istanbul. Acting on orders from the Grey Wolves, someone snuffed out the life of Abdi İpekçi, a big shot at the Turkish paper Milliyet. They nabbed the culprit after a tip-off and he was given a life sentence. Six months later he pulled off a daring escape, thanks to Abdullah Çatlı, the Grey Wolves' right-hand man. Together, they fled to Bulgaria, a hotspot for Turkish mob activity.



Investigative journalist Lucy Komisar dug deep and found connections between the killer and Çatlı. Rumour has it they cooked up the İpekçi hit together. Komisar also hinted that Çatlı might've had a hand in the assassination attempt on the Pope. And get this, Reuters reckons the killer got help slipping out from some insiders in the security biz.

Adding more spice to the mix, when Çatlı met his end in a Benz wreck, cops found a passport in the name of "Mehmet Özbay"—a name our killer liked to use.

John Paul II was seriously wounded in the abdomen and Agca spent the next 19 years in Italian prisons

In 1979, The New York Times detailed Ağca's menacing threat against the Pope, branding him as the "masked leader of the Crusades" and warning of dire consequences should he proceed with his planned visit to Turkey. Despite these ominous words, the Pope's visit did take place in late November 1979. Ağca justified his threat as retaliation for the ongoing attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca, a situation he attributed to either the United States or Israel.


From August 1980 onward, Ağca embarked on a series of journeys across the Mediterranean. He later testified to meetings with three cohorts in Rome: one Turkish and two Bulgarian individuals. Allegedly, Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy, oversaw the operation, orchestrated at the behest of Turkish mafioso Bekir Çelenk in Bulgaria. However, Le Monde diplomatique countered this narrative, implicating Abdullah Çatlı as the mastermind behind the assassination attempt, purportedly in exchange for a considerable sum paid by Çelenk to the Grey Wolves.


According to Ağca's own account, the plan entailed him and his accomplice, Oral Çelik, opening fire in St. Peter's Square and seeking refuge in the Bulgarian embassy amidst the ensuing chaos triggered by a minor explosion.


On the fateful day of 13th May, they positioned themselves in the square, scribbling postcards while awaiting the Pope's arrival. When the Pope passed them, Ağca fired several shots and wounded him, but was grabbed by spectators and Vatican security chief Camillo Cibin. This prevented him 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. Çelik panicked and fled without setting off his bomb or opening fire.  However, the Pope survived the ordeal, thwarting Ağca's assassination bid.


In July 1981, Ağca received a life sentence in Italy for his attempt on the Pope's life. Following the harrowing incident, Pope John Paul II publicly extended forgiveness to Ağca, urging people to pray for his "brother."


In a remarkable turn of events, the Pope and Ağca had a private conversation in 1983 at the prison where Ağca was incarcerated. This encounter was followed by continued correspondence and outreach from the Pope to Ağca's family. In 1987, the Pope met Ağca's mother, and a decade later, he also met with Ağca's brother.

In his book Memory and Identity John Paul II said he was convinced that the plot was planned and commissioned and that Agca was a mere puppet

In the summer of 1983, the individuals purportedly responsible for the disappearance of Emanuela Orlandi, a young girl associated with the Vatican, made a plea for Ağca's release. Emanuela had vanished mysteriously in Rome earlier that year, adding a layer of intrigue to the situation.

Then, on 9th June 1997, Air Malta Flight 830 became the focal point of a hijacking incident involving two individuals. Upon the plane's landing in Cologne, the hijackers demanded Ağca's release. Despite their demands, Ağca remained in custody, and the hijackers eventually surrendered to authorities.

The Fiat Popemobile in which Pope John Paul II was the subject of an assassination attempt. This vehicle is now in the "Carriage museum" in Vatican City.

Having served nearly two decades of his life sentence in an Italian prison, Ağca's fate took a surprising turn in June 2000. At the behest of Pope John Paul II, then-Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi granted Ağca a pardon and ordered his deportation to Turkey.


In early February 2005, as the Pope's health declined, Ağca reached out with a letter expressing his well wishes to the Pontiff, alongside a foreboding warning of an imminent end to the world. On 2nd April 2005, the Pope passed away. In the wake of this loss, Ağca's brother, Adnan, spoke publicly, conveying their profound grief and emphasising the deep friendship that had developed between Ağca and the late Pope, which extended benevolently to their entire family.

 


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