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Pope gunman to be freed from Turkish prison

The gunman who wounded Pope John Paul II says he'll answer questions about the 1981 attack after he is released from prison next week.
The end of a letter written by Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, says “I will answer to all of these questions in the next weeks.”Burhan Ozbilici / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The gunman who wounded Pope John Paul II said Wednesday he would answer questions about the 1981 attack after he is released from prison next week.

Little is known about what led Mehmet Ali Agca to shoot at the pope while he was greeting the faithful in St. Peter's Square, but rumors have swirled about whether foreign powers had conspired to have the Polish-born pontiff killed.

"I will answer to all of these questions in the next weeks," Agca said in a letter written in English and released by his lawyers.

Historians, law enforcement officials and John Paul's followers have long sought answers about the attack, including whether it was a plot to assassinate the pope whose championing of Poland's Solidarity labor movement figured in the demise of communism in the Soviet bloc.

When Agca was arrested minutes after the attack, he declared he had acted alone. Later, he suggested Bulgaria and the Soviet Union's KGB were behind the attack, but then backed off that line. His contradictory statements, including claims to be a Messiah, have frustrated prosecutors over the decades and raised questions about his mental health.

The pope met and forgave Agca in 1983 while the gunman was serving a 19-year sentence in an Italian prison. On Monday, Agca ends another 10-year prison sentence for killing a Turkish journalist in 1979.

Bulgarians, Turks acquitted
Italian magistrate Rosario Priore has said he was convinced there was a plot against the pope and that Agca did not act alone, but he failed to convince a jury in Rome in 1986 that Bulgaria and the Soviet KGB were involved.

The Italian jury acquitted six defendants — three Bulgarians and three Turks — in the "Bulgarian connection" case. An appeals trial in 1987 reached the same conclusion.

John Paul himself gave his take on the question, saying during a 2002 visit to Bulgaria that he never believed there was a Bulgarian connection.

But in his book "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums," the pope said of his attacker and the shooting: "someone else planned it, someone else commissioned it." John Paul died in 2005.

Two years before Agca's 1981 attack on the pope, he had escaped from a Turkish military prison while serving time for the murder of Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci.

Link to 15-year-old's disappearance?
In the letter released Wednesday, Agca said he would answer whether there was any link between the Nov. 25, 1979, escape and an alleged Kremlin document dated the same day and claiming that Moscow had decided to kill the pope.

He said he would also discuss the unsolved 1983 disappearance of a Vatican messenger's 15-year-old daughter. At one point, people claiming to have kidnapped the girl reportedly demanded Agca's release in exchange for her safe return, but Italian officials said there was not enough evidence that the kidnapping and the pope's shooting were linked.

In a recent letter to The Associated Press, Agca said he wanted to visit the Vatican after his release.