March 2, 2006

Soviet Union ordered Pope shooting: Italy commission

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Leaders of the former Soviet Union were
behind the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in
1981, an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said in
a report.

A final draft of the report, which is due to be presented
to parliament later this month, was made available to Reuters
on Thursday by the commission president, Senator Paolo

"This commission believes, beyond any reasonable doubt,
that the leadership of the Soviet Union took the initiative to
eliminate Pope John Paul," the report said.

"They relayed this decision to the military secret services
for them to take on all necessary operations to commit a crime
of unique gravity, without parallel in modern times," it said.

A 30-page chapter on the assassination attempt was included
in a wider report by parliament's Mitrokhin Commission, which
probed the revelations of Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior Soviet
archivist during the Cold War who defected to Britain in 1992.

The Pope was shot in St Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 by
Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who was arrested minutes later
and convicted of attempted murder.

At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish
homeland were starting a domino effect which was eventually to
lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity
union and most historians agree he had a vital role in events
that led to the formation of the East Bloc's first freely
elected government and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

At a trial in 1986, prosecutors failed to prove charges
that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca to kill the Pope
on behalf of the Soviet Union.


The so-called "Bulgarian Connection" trial ended with an
acquittal for "lack of sufficient evidence" of three Turks and
three Bulgarians charged with conspiring with Agca.

But the verdict, a quirk of the Italian judicial system,
fell short of a full acquittal. It meant the jury was not fully
convinced of the defendants' innocence but that there was not
enough evidence for a guilty verdict.

Guzzanti, a senator in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's
Forza Italia party, said the commission decided to re-open the
report's chapter on the assassination attempt last year after
the Pope wrote about it in his last book before dying.

In that book, the Pope wrote that he was convinced the
shooting was not Agca's initiative and that "someone else
mastermined it and someone else commissioned it."

Guzzanti told Reuters his commission heard testimony from
investigators in Italy and elsewhere who had probed both the
assassination attempt as well as other politically related
crimes in Europe during the Cold War.

He said the commission had photographic evidence that
Sergei Antonov, a Bulgarian cleared of conspiracy at the 1986
trial, was in St Peter's Square with Agca when the Pope was

"We gave the pictures to two independent experts who
analyzed them with computers and both concluded that the man
was Antonov who had claimed to be in his office at the time,"
Guzzanti said.

The photos are not new. They first emerged in the 1980s but
lawyers for Antonov said at the time the man looking on as the
Pope was shot was a tourist who resembled him.