by Florian Sohnke
On 13 May 1981, as the Pontiff’s motorcade returned to the Vatican in an automobile without the protective cover of bulletproof glass, few suspected the events that would unfold. As the motorcade slowed to permit the Pontiff to greet throngs of admirers, among the crowd stood a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, who carefully viewed his quarry draw closer into his range. Agca, a Turkish ex-convict with a string of violent crimes to his name, and known for his affiliation with the Turkish ultra-nationalist “Grey Wolves” political organization, held connections with Bulgarian intelligence officials.
As the motorcade neared Agca’s perch, Agca raised a 9mm Browning Hi-Powered pistol and fired four shots in the direction of the Pontiff. As the sudden burst of gunfire scattered the crowd, the Pontiff slumped forward, critically injured by two bullets which pierced his abdomen, while the two others struck the Pope in the arm and finger.
In the ensuing melee, Agca feebly attempted to escape and relieved himself of the tool of his attempted assassination, recklessly casting it under a truck. Agca’s attempt to evade escape immediately collapsed: He was tackled by Vatican security agents and a handful of spectators, including a nun, and arrested.
Despite two serious wounds to his abdomen, thankfully, and mercifully, the Pontiff recovered. Shortly after, the Pope demonstrated what makes one Pope – personal angelic kindness and the infinite power of forgiveness – and issued a worldwide appeal to Catholics to pray for Agca. In 1983, the Pontiff visited Agca in the Italian prison in which he was held, prayed with him, and eventually met with members of Agca’s family.
Despite numerous theories, some of which never stood up to scrutiny, in the investigation which proceeded, Italian officials extracted a confession from Agca which implicated Bulgarian State Security, and, by extension, darkly hinted the Soviet KGB had a sinister hand in the extended plot. According to the Bulgarian theory, the strongest one to date, the KGB charged East German Intelligence Services, the Stazi, and Bulgarian State Security, the CSS, to assassinate the Pope in retaliation for the Pope’s involvement in promoting anti-communist upheaval through Catholicism in Poland.
In face of the intersecting secrets in the dark world of espionage, particularly during the Cold-War era, it is likely the assassination attempt would have benefited the Kremlin and Eastern-Bloc nations, but beyond the involvement of Bulgarian intelligence operatives, nothing has been definitively established.
Agca was released from Italian custody, deported to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for a 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist. He is now a free man.