Man who shot pope in 1981 seeks to attend his funeral

Imprisoned Agca calls pontiff `spiritual brother'

A World In Mourning

The Death Of Pope John Paul Ii

April 05, 2005|By Amberin Zaman | Amberin Zaman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANKARA, Turkey - Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, has requested leave from prison to attend the pontiff's funeral, saying he is mourning the loss of his "spiritual brother."

"I must be there," Agca said yesterday through his attorney. "I must attend the funeral."

The lawyer, Mustafa Demirag, met with Agca in Istanbul's Kartal prison and said he would seek permission from a prosecutor for his client to travel to Rome. It is unlikely that the maximum-security inmate will be granted leave, Demirag acknowledged.

The pope met with Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting.

"Agca absolutely adores the pope. His death would be an enormous blow," Agca's brother, Adnan Agca, said in an interview before Pope John Paul died Saturday.

Agca, 48, was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in prison in Italy for his failed assassination attempt. He is serving the remaining 9 1/2 years of a sentence imposed earlier for the murder of a prominent Turkish journalist in 1979.

Agca, an escaped convict at the time of his 1981 attack, initially said he had acted on his own. He then said Bulgarian and Czechoslovak agents working on behalf of the Soviet Union's KGB had trained him as a killer in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital.

The goal of the plot, he said, was to halt Pope John Paul's anti-communist campaign, which was gaining ground in the Eastern bloc, especially in Poland, the pope's homeland.

In December 1980, Agca traveled to Rome. The next May, he opened fire with a semiautomatic pistol as the pope rode in an open jeep through St. Peter's Square.

In 1986, at his second trial, Agca said part of his original testimony had been lies. He also claimed to be Jesus Christ. Italian prosecutors failed to prove charges that the Bulgarian secret service had hired him on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Agca now calls his attempt to kill the pope part of a "divine plan."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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