Mehmet Ali Ağca
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Mehmet Ali Ağca
|Criminal status||Pardoned in Italy and paroled in Turkey|
|Conviction(s)||Attempted murder (of Pope John Paul II)|
Murder (of Abdi İpekçi)
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment in Italy (served 19 years); death penalty and various lengths of imprisonment in Turkey (served 10 years)|
Mehmet Ali Ağca (Turkish pronunciation: [mehˈmet aˈli ˈaːdʒa]; born 9 January 1958) is a Turkish assassin and Grey Wolves member who murdered left-wing journalist Abdi İpekçi on 1 February 1979, and later shot and wounded Pope John Paul II on 13 May 1981, after escaping from a Turkish prison. After serving 19 years of imprisonment in Italy where he was visited by the Pope, he was deported to Turkey, where he served a ten-year sentence. He was released on 18 January 2010. Ağca has described himself as a mercenary with no political orientation, although he is known to have been a member of the Turkish ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves organization and the state-sponsored Counter-Guerrilla.
On 27 December 2014, 33 years after his crime, Mehmet Ali Ağca publicly arrived at the Vatican to lay white roses on the recently canonized Saint John Paul II's tomb and said he wanted to meet Pope Francis, a request that was denied.
Ağca was born in the Hekimhan district, Malatya Province in Turkey. As a youth, he became a petty criminal and a member of numerous street gangs in his hometown. He became a smuggler between Turkey and Bulgaria. He claims to have received two months of training in weaponry and terrorist tactics in Syria as a member of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Communist Bulgarian government, although the PFLP has denied this.
Grey Wolves involvement
After training he went to work for the ultranationalist Turkish Grey Wolves.
On 1 February 1979, in Istanbul, under orders from the Grey Wolves, he murdered Abdi İpekçi, editor of the major Turkish newspaper Milliyet. After being denounced by an informant, he was caught and sentenced to life in prison. After serving six months, he escaped with the help of Abdullah Çatlı, second-in-command of the Grey Wolves, and fled to Bulgaria, which was a base of operation for the Turkish mafia. According to investigative journalist Lucy Komisar, Mehmet Ali Ağca had worked with Abdullah Çatlı in the 1979 assassination, who "then reportedly helped organize Ağca's escape from an Istanbul military prison, and some have suggested Çatlı was even involved in the Pope's assassination attempt". According to Reuters, Ağca had "escaped with suspected help from sympathizers in the security services". Lucy Komisar added that at the scene of the Mercedes-Benz crash where Çatlı died, he was found with a passport under the name of "Mehmet Özbay" — an alias also used by Mehmet Ali Ağca.
Assassination attempt on the Pope
Beginning in August 1980, Ağca began criss-crossing the Mediterranean region.
According to Ağca's later testimony, he met with three accomplices in Rome, one a fellow Turk and the other two Bulgarians. The operation was commanded by Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy. He said that he was assigned this mission by Turkish mafioso Bekir Çelenk in Bulgaria. Le Monde diplomatique, however, has alleged that the assassination attempt was organized by Abdullah Çatlı "in exchange for the sum of 3 million marks", paid by Bekir Çelenk to the Grey Wolves.
According to Ağca, the plan was for him and the back-up gunman Oral Çelik to open fire in St. Peter's Square and escape to the Bulgarian embassy under the cover of the panic generated by a small explosion. On 13 May they sat in the square, writing postcards and waiting for the Pope to arrive. When the Pope passed them, Ağca fired several shots and wounded him, but was grabbed by spectators and Vatican security chief Camillo Cibin. This prevented him from finishing the assassination or escaping. Four bullets hit John Paul II, two of them lodging in his lower intestine, the others hitting his left hand and right arm. Two bystanders were also hit. Çelik panicked and fled without setting off his bomb or opening fire. The Pope survived the assassination attempt.
Prison time, release, and rearrest
Ağca was sentenced in July 1981 to life imprisonment in Italy for the assassination attempt. Following his shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to "pray for my brother (Ağca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." In 1983, the pope and Ağca met and spoke privately at the prison where Ağca was being held. The Pope was also in touch with Ağca's family over the years, meeting his mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later. After serving almost 20 years of a life sentence in prison in Italy, at the request of Pope John Paul II, Ağca was pardoned by the then Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in June 2000 and deported to Turkey.
Following his extradition to Turkey, he was imprisoned for the 1979 murder of Abdi İpekçi and for two bank raids carried out in the 1970s. Ağca was arrested on June 25 and incarcerated in the Maltepe Military Prison. He fled to Bulgaria on 25 November and was sentenced to death in absentia. Ağca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 by benefiting from the Conditional Amnesty Law. This consideration granted to the ex-convict elicited strong reactions. Both cases about Ağca were merged and tried before the Kadıköy 1st High Criminal Court. The single trial concerned the hijacking of Cengiz Aydos's taxi in 1979, robbing the Yıldırım jewelry store in Kızıltoprak on 22 March 1979 and stealing money from the Fruko soda storage on 4 April 1979.
On 9 June 1997, Air Malta Flight 830 was hijacked by two men. After landing in Cologne, the hijackers demanded the release of Ağca, who at the time was serving a life sentence in Italy for trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981. Ağca was not released and the hijackers surrendered.
On 18 January 2000, the judges dismissed the charges because of the statute of limitation on the case filed for the jewelry store robbery and for "breach of the Firearms Act" (law no. 6136). For embezzlement and money theft Ağca was sentenced to 36 years of imprisonment. Ağca's lawyers applied for their client's release under Law no. 4516 on Parole and Deferral of Penalties in December 2000. Their request was denied by the 1st High Criminal Court of Kartal. The lawyers filed an appeal against this decision, but the appeals court upheld the ruling. Ağca's life sentence was reduced to 10 years in prison for murder under a Turkish law that shortened prison sentences if served in a foreign prison. The money-laundering conviction and 36-year sentence were overturned because of the statute of limitations for robbery, which was 7 years under Turkish law.
In early February 2005, during the Pope's illness, Ağca sent a letter to the Pope wishing him well and also warning him that the world would end soon. When the Pope died on 2 April 2005, Ağca's brother Adnan gave an interview in which he said that Ağca and his entire family were grieving, and that the Pope had been a great friend to them.
Ağca was released on parole on 12 January 2006. Mustafa Demirbağ, his lawyer, explained his release as a combination of amnesty and penal reform: an amnesty in 2000 deducted 10 years from his time, the court then deducted his 20 years in the Italian prison based on a new article in the penal code, and so he became eligible for parole for good behavior. However, a report from the French AFP news agency stated that "The Turkish judicial authorities still haven't explained exactly which legal resources he had access to", and former minister of Justice Hikmet Sami Türk, in government at the time of Ağca's extradition, claimed that, from a legal viewpoint, his release was a "serious mistake" at best, and that he should have not been freed before 2012. However, on 20 January 2006, the Turkish Supreme Court ruled that his time served in Italy could not be deducted from his Turkish sentence and he was again imprisoned.
Later developments and release
On 2 May 2008, Ağca asked to be awarded Polish citizenship as he wished to spend the final years of his life in Poland, Pope John Paul II's country of birth. Ağca stated that upon his release he wanted to visit Pope John Paul II's tomb and partner with Dan Brown on writing a book.
Ağca was released from jail on January 18, 2010. He was transferred to a military hospital in order to assess if, at 52, he was still fit for compulsory military service. The military found him unfit for military service for having "antisocial personality disorder". In a statement, he announced: "I will meet you in the next three days. In the name of God Almighty, I proclaim the end of the world in this century. All the world will be destroyed, every human being will die. I am not God, I am not son of God, I am Christ eternal."
Claims of external involvement in the assassination attempt
It has also been alleged that the Soviet Union's KGB ordered the assassination, because of John Paul II's support for the Solidarity labor movement in Poland. Ağca stated this during one of his interrogations before trial.
According to this new version of the events, Ağca received instructions and training in weapons and explosives in Iran, from Mohsen Rezai, under the orders of Ayatollah Jaffar Subhani and Ayatollah Khomeiny. In his book, Ağca acknowledges that he lied previously about the Bulgarian and Soviet connection. He stayed in Sofia for about a month, but he was not in contact with any Bulgarian or other intelligence officers, he was in transit from Turkey to Western Europe, and was delayed in Sofia because his fake Indian passport was of such poor quality that on several occasions he had to bribe officials who became suspicious. So, he waited to receive a much better quality Turkish passport from the Grey Wolves: a genuine passport issued by the Turkish government to another person, Faruk Faruk Özgün, only the photo of Özgün was replaced by a photo of Ağca.
When Pope John Paul II visited him in prison in Italy, on 27 December 1983 (two and a half years after the assassination attempt), Ağca recalls in his memoirs he kissed the hand of the pope, having kissed three years earlier the hand of Khomeiny in Iran, and when asked, he told John Paul II “Khomeiny and the Iranian government gave me the order to kill you”.
Ağca's shooting of the Pope and possible KGB involvement is featured in Tom Clancy's 2002 novel, Red Rabbit, and Frederick Forsyth's novel, The Fourth Protocol. He has also been mentioned in the book, The Third Revelation, by Ralph McInerny, and was portrayed by actors Sebastian Knapp in the ABC TV biopic movie Have No Fear: The Life of Pope John Paul II, Massimiliano Ubaldi in CBS' TV miniseries Pope John Paul II (both 2005) and Alkis Zanis in the 2006 Canadian TV sequel Karol: The Pope, The Man.
- Juan María Fernández y Krohn, a former Roman Catholic priest who tried to stab Pope John Paul II in 1982
- Rabia Kazan, who interviewed Ali Ağca when he was in prison
- Freedman, Robert Owen, The Middle East from the Iran-Contra affair to the Intifada, (Syracuse University Press, 1991), 396; "Demirag was known as an admirer of Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk that shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981."
- Weigel, George, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, (HarperCollins Publisher, 1999), 397.
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- Allen, John L. (2016) . The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. New York, NY: Random House LLC. p. 211. ISBN 9780770437374.
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- The original edition of the book is in Italian (“Mi avevano promesso il paradiso: La mia vita e la verità sull'attentato al papa”, i.e. “They promised me the paradise: My life and the truth about the assassination attempt on the pope”).The Italian edition is available in electronic version for the Nook: Agca, Ali. Mi avevano promesso il paradiso: La mia vita e la verità sull'attentato al papa. Publisher GeMS (31 January 2013), ISBN 978-88-6190-438-5 There is also a French translation under the name “Je devais tuer le pape” (“I had to kill the pope”), version for Kindle: Agca, Ali (Author), Rouillard, Philippe (Translator). Je devais tuer le pape. Publisher: Archipel (March 13, 2013)