Mehmet Ali Ağca

Mehmet Ali Ağca
Born January 9, 1958 (1958-01-09) (age 53)
Hekimhan, Turkey
Conviction(s) Attempted murder (of Pope John Paul II)
murder (of Abdi İpekçi)
robbery, theft
Penalty Life imprisonment in Italy; 10 years imprisonment in Turkey
Status Paroled

Mehmet Ali Ağca (Turkish pronunciation: [ˈaːdʒa]; born January 9, 1958) is a Turkish[1][2] assassin who murdered left-wing journalist Abdi İpekçi on February 1, 1979 and later shot and wounded Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981, after escaping from a Turkish prison. After serving 19 years of imprisonment in Italy, he was deported to Turkey, where he served a ten-year sentence. He was released on January 18, 2010.[3] 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.


Early life

Ağca was born in the Hekimhan district, Malatya Province in Turkey. As a youth, he became a petty criminal and a member of street gangs in his home town. 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 left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Communist Bulgarian government, although this has been questioned.

Grey Wolves involvement

After training he went to work for the far-right Turkish Grey Wolves, who were at the time destabilizing Turkey, which led to a military coup in 1980. It has been claimed ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves were being used by the CIA. For instance, according to Kendal Nezan of the Kurdish Institute of Paris, they were infiltrated and manipulated by Gladio "stay-behind" networks, a NATO clandestine structure.[4]

On February 1, 1979 in Istanbul, under orders from the Grey Wolves, he murdered Abdi İpekçi, editor of a major Turkish newspaper Milliyet. He was caught due to an informant and was 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 a prominent Gladio operative, 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 this 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".[5] 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.[6]

Assassination attempt on the Pope

Beginning in August 1980 Ağca began criss-crossing the Mediterranean region, changing passports and identities, perhaps to hide his trigger point of origin in Sofia, Bulgaria. He entered Rome on May 10, 1981, coming by train from Milan.[citation needed]

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 Celenk 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 Celenk to the Grey Wolves.[7]

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 May 13 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 and prevented 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."[8] Although Ağca had been quoted as saying that "to me [the Pope] was the incarnation of all that is capitalism", and had attempted to murder him, Ağca developed a friendship with the pontiff.[citation needed] In 1983, he 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.[9] After serving almost 20 years of a life sentence in prison in Italy, Ağca was pardoned by the then Italian president Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in June 2000 and deported to Turkey.[10]

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. Journalist Abdi İpekçi was killed on February 1, 1979. 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 his absence. Ağca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 by benefiting from the Conditional Amnesty Law. This possibility granted to the ex-convict caused strong reactions. Both cases about Ağca were merged and tried before the Kadıköy 1st High Criminal Court. The single trial concerned the usurpation of Cengiz Aydos' taxi in 1979, robbing the Yıldırm jewelry store in Kızıltoprak on March 22, 1979 and stealing money from the Fruko soda storage on April 4, 1979.

On June 9, 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 decreed for a dismissal of proceedings due to the statute of limitation regarding the case filed for the jewelry store robbery and for "opposition to the Firearms Act" (law no. 6136). For usurpation and money theft Ağca was handed a 36 year prison sentence. Ağca's lawyers applied for the release of their client deriving benefit from law no. 4516 related to Parole and Postponement of Penalties in December 2000. Their request was rejected by the Kartal 1st High Criminal Court. The lawyers filed an appeal against this decision which was declined again. Ağca was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder.[11]

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 April 2, 2005, Ağca's brother Adnan gave an interview in which he said that Agca and his entire family were grieving, and that the Pope had been a great friend to them. On April 5, 2005 CNN stated that Ağca would want to visit the Pope's funeral on April 8, 2005. However, Turkish authorities rejected his request to leave prison to attend.[citation needed]

Ağca was released on parole on January 12, 2006.[12] 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 he was then eligible to be paroled based on good behaviour. 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 liberation was a "serious mistake" at best, and that he should have not been freed before 2012.[13][14] However, on January 20, 2006, the Turkish Supreme Court ruled that his time served in Italy could not be deducted from his Turkish sentence and he was returned to jail.[5]

It was during his time in prison that he converted to Christianity in 2007. He claimed to be the Messiah at his trial and has made many bizarre statements over the years, although it has never been clear whether he is mentally unstable or merely acting.[15]

On Pope Benedict XVI

After Pope Benedict XVI was criticized by the Muslim world following the September 12, 2006 Regensburg lecture, Ali Ağca wrote a letter to the Pope from jail warning him to cancel his planned trip to Turkey in November 2006. In the letter, which was published in leading Italian Rome-based daily la Repubblica,[16] he stated:

Pope Ratzinger listen to someone who knows these things very well.

Your life is in danger. You absolutely must not come to Turkey. Pope Benedict you must know that between 1980 and 2000 I was in contact with various Western intelligence services and with the Vatican.

In those twenty years, I learnt many things and I came into possession of many classified secrets.

For your own welfare, you must make a grand gesture of honour and resign.

Then you must return to your native land (Germany) and in your place an Italian cardinal can be elected Pope, possibly Tettamanzi or Bertone.

Then the Vatican should become a center of peace and fraternity. The world has a need of this, it does not need hatred and vendetta.[16]

Despite Ağca's warning, Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey proceeded as scheduled without any incidents.

Later developments and release

On May 2, 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 origin.[17] Ağca has stated that upon his release he wants to visit Pope John Paul II's tomb and partner with Dan Brown on writing a book.[18]

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."[19]

Claims of Vatican involvement in the assassination attempt

In November 2010, he publicly asserted that Cardinal Agostino Casaroli had been the man behind the assassination attempt on John Paul II in 1981.[20]

Cultural references

Ağca's shooting of the Pope and the alleged 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 as well as in the 1981 Greek play The Tape by Loula Anagnostaki, where the leading hero is recording a message to Ali Agca.

See also

  • Alois Estermann, Swiss Guard assassinated in 1998 in mysterious circumstances
  • Emanuela Orlandi, "disappeared" in the 1980s, maybe in relation to Gladio and Propaganda Due; Archbishop Paul Marcinkus has been alleged to be part of the kidnapping, which may have been done in order to press the Pope to ask for Mehmet Ali Ağca's liberation to the Italian state (according to Mehmet Ali's 2005 interview to La Repubblica).
  • Juan María Fernández y Krohn, a former Roman Catholic priest who tried to stab Pope John Paul II
  • Rabia Kazan, who interviewed Ali Ağca when he was in jail


  1. ^ 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."
  2. ^ Weigel, George, Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, (HarperCollins Publisher, 1999), 397.
  3. ^ "Man who shot pope released from prison". CNN. 2010-01-18. Retrieved 2010-01-18. 
  4. ^ Nezan, Kendal (1998-07-05). "Turkey's pivotal role in the international drug trade". Le Monde Diplomatique. 
  5. ^ a b Goktas, Hidir (2006-01-20). "Man who shot pope must return to jail: Turkish court". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2006-01-20. 
  6. ^ Komisar, Lucy (1997-06-04). "The Assassins of a Pope". Albion Monitor. 
  7. ^ Martin A. Lee, "Les liaisons dangereuses de la police turque," Le Monde diplomatique, 3 March 1997.
  8. ^ Holy See defers to courts on possible release of would-be Papal assassin
  9. ^ Would-Be Assassin Mourns Pope
  10. ^ Italy: Turkish gunman wants to be baptised at the Vatican
  11. ^ Mehmet Ali Ağca Released 29 Years after Attack on Pope John Paul II
  12. ^ Newton, Paula (2006-01-12). "Man who shot pope freed". Associated Press. Archived from the original on January 14, 2006. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  13. ^ "Mehmet Ali Agca, le Turc qui avait voulu tuer le Pape, libéré de prison" (in French). Agence France Presse. 2006-01-12. Retrieved 12 January 2006.  (The English translation is missing the sentence stating that "Turkish juridical authorities still haven't explained with precision the legal dispositions from which he has benefited")[dead link]
  14. ^ Hacaoglu, Selcan (2006-01-09). "Pope John Paul's Shooter to Be Released". redOrbit. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  15. ^ ‘Messiah’ Mehmet Ali Agca hopes to cash in on Pope attack
  16. ^ a b "Papal assassin warns Pope Benedict his 'life is in danger' if he visits Turkey". Evening Standard. Retrieved 2006-09-20. 
  17. ^ Fraser, Suzan (2008-05-02). "Turk who shot Pope John Paul II seeks Polish citizenship". USA Today. Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-10-10. 
  18. ^ John Follain (2008-10-10). "Gunman Mehmet Ali Agca who shot Pope John Paul II seeks £3m in book deals". The Times. Times Online (London). Retrieved 2008-10-18. 
  19. ^ "Pope John Paul II gunman released from prison". The Guardian. Associated Press (London). 18 January 2010. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  20. ^ ['Vatican ordered hit on Pope John Paul II']

External links

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