Italian panel: Soviets behind pope attack - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Italian panel: Soviets behind pope attack

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Posted: Thursday, March 2, 2006 6:39 am | Updated: 4:41 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

ROME - An Italian parliamentary commission concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 attempt to kill Pope John Paul II - a theory long alleged but never proved, according to a draft report made available Thursday.

The commission held that the pope was a danger to the Soviet bloc because of his support for the Solidarity labor movement in his native Poland. Solidarity was the first free trade union in communist eastern Europe.

"This commission believes, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the leaders of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate the pope Karol Wojtyla," said a draft of the commission's report obtained by The Associated Press.

Wojtyla was John Paul's Polish name.

The draft has no bearing on any judicial investigations, which have long been closed.

The report also said a photograph shows that a Bulgarian man acquitted of involvement in the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt was in St. Peter's Square when the pontiff was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca.

The Bulgarian secret service allegedly was working for Soviet military intelligence, but the Italian court held that the evidence was insufficient to convict the Bulgarians in the plot.

Agca, a Turk, has changed his story often and investigators said it was never clear who he was working for. He initially blamed the Soviets.

Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for shooting the pope and then 5 1/2 years in Turkey for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci.

He was released from the Turkish prison Jan. 12 but returned days later when prosecutors said he must serve more of his 10-year term for killing Ipekci. He will be released in 2010.

The Italian commission was originally established to investigate any KGB penetration of Italy during the Cold War.

The commission president, Sen. Paolo Guzzanti, said he decided to investigate the 1981 shooting after John Paul said in his book "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums" that "someone else planned it, someone else commissioned it." The book came out shortly before the pope's death last year.

Sergei Antonov, former Rome station manager of Bulgaria's state airline, claimed during his trial that he was in his office when John Paul was shot. Italy had accused him of complicity with Agca.

Antonov's lawyer, Giuseppe Consolo, said it was a case of mistaken identity and the man in the photograph came forward during the investigation as an American tourist of Hungarian origin. Consolo said the photo was not used as evidence in the trial.

The report must be approved by the full commission, which meets March 7.

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