Mehmet Ali Ağca (born January 9, 1958) is a Turkish assassin, who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981. After serving 19 years of incarceration in Italy, he was deported to Turkey, where he is serving another life sentence for the murder of Abdi İpekçi, a left-wing journalist, in 1979. 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.
Ağca was born in İsmailli village, 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 Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine paid for by the Bulgarian government, although this has been questioned.
After this 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. Opinions differ on whether the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves were being used by the CIA or the Bulgarian Secret Service. According to the Monde diplomatique newspaper, they were infiltrated and manipulated by Gladio "stay-behind" networks, a NATO clandestine structure. On February 1, 1979 in Istanbul, under orders from the Grey Wolves, he murdered Abdi İpekçi, editor of the moderate left-wing 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 reporter 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". 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.
According to Ağca's later testimony, he met with three accomplices in Rome, one a fellow Turk and two Bulgarians, with operation being commanded by Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy. He said that he was assigned this mission by Turkish mafioso Bechir 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 Bechir Celenk 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 May 13 they sat in the square, writing postcards waiting for the Pope to arrive. When the Pope passed, Ağca fired several shots and critically 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.
Ağca had been sentenced to life in prison for the murder, which amounts to 36 years under Turkish law. He had served less than six months in Turkish prison before he escaped. 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.
Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked people to "pray for my brother (Ağca), whom I have sincerely forgiven." 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.
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. 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 Mehmet Ali 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.
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 the Vatican should become a centre of peace and fraternity. The world has a need of this, it does not need hatred and vendetta.
Pope Benedict's visit to Turkey proceeded without incident.