|This article originally appeared in
|12 January, 2006
|Would-be pope killer released in Turkey
ISN SECURITY WATCH (12/01/06) - The Turkish killer who tried to assassinate Pope
John Paul II in 1981 was released from prison on Thursday, though the Italian
magistrate who investigated the attempted assassination said Mehmet Ali Agca’s
freedom might be cut short by those interesting in silencing him.
The Italian media, meanwhile, has been speculating that Agca’s freedom could shed
light on the 23-year-old mystery about the disappearance of the teenage daughter of a
Vatican employee, a case thought to be tied to the assassination plot.
Agca was released from a Turkish prison on Thursday after serving almost six years
for the 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist. He spent 19 years in Italian jails for the
attempt on John Paul’s life, but was pardoned by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
in 2000. Agca was immediately extradited to Turkey to serve time on the older murder
There has been widespread speculation that Agca’s freedom could help shed light on
many of the unanswered questions surrounding the attempt on the pontiff’s life,
including the disappearance of then-16-year-old Emanuela Orlandi in 1983. It is believed
Orlandi was abducted in order to exchange her for Agca, though such an offer was
never made. The Orlandi family believes the girl, who would now be 38, is still alive.
But retired magistrate Ferdinando Imposimato, who headed the 1981 investigation into
Agca’s activities, says he doubts the 48-year-old radical’s release will help solve any
“I think it would be a surprise if Agca lives to see the end of the year,” Imposimato said
in an interview with ISN Security Watch. “There are too many people who have an
interest in seeing him dead. They should have just left him in jail for his own safety.”
Imposimato says he believes Agca was contracted by Bulgarian agents working for
the KGB Secret Police in the Soviet Union. Their interest, he says, was to silence the
highly visible pope, who had thrown his weight behind the nascent Solidarity
movement in Poland, one of the groups that helped start the domino effect that
eventually resulted in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet
Union two years later.
But there are other theories, too. Some believe the Bulgarians may have contracted
with Agca for their own reasons, or that Agca may have been in the employ of the
Turkish mafia or the Grey Wolves, a radical Turkish militant group to which Agca once
Others believe Agca may have even been mentally unbalanced and acting alone. Until
now, Agca has given conflicting information about his motives in 1981, and the belief
that that could change now is what puts Agca’s life in jeopardy, Imposimato said.
“It is very unlikely he acted alone and yet so far he has not indicated anyone, but it
would only take one conversation for that to change,” Imposimato told ISN Security
Watch. “He is dangerous to whoever he could implicate, and my guess is that those
are powerful people.”
Imposimato, who lives near Rome, said that even though any role played by the Soviet
Union would now be less controversial since the Soviet government collapsed, there
were many individuals who could be harmed if their roles were revealed.
“I will just say that he [Agca] should now be very mindful of his own safety,”
The assassination attempt took place in St. Peter’s Square on 13 May 1981. Though
John Paul appeared to recover from the attack, his health began to deteriorate
afterwards. When he died last year, doctors said that many of the pontiff’s medical
problems were complications stemming from the 1981 wounds.
While still recovering in Rome’s Gemelli Hospital four days after being shot, John Paul
said he had forgiven Agca for the assassination attempt. He reiterated the pardon four
years later, when the two men met in Rome’s Rebibbia prison.
Upon his release in Turkey, Agca said only that he would like to meet Pope Benedict
XVI, John Paul’s successor. He did not say how he planned to spend his newfound
The Orlandi family, meanwhile, said on Thursday they would make an official request
for the case looking into the disappearance of Emanuela to be reopened on the
grounds that Agca’s freedom could shed light on the stalled investigation.
(By Eric J. Lyman in Rome)