30 Years ago: shots fired in st. Peter's square

Three times the Turkish professional killer Ali Agca shot John Paul II from a supposedly deadly distance 30 years ago. To this day, the background to the Pope's assassination is one of the unsolved mysteries of criminal history.

Rome, St. Peter's Square, 13. May 1981, 17.8 p.m. Pope John Paul II. is in the open jeep on the way to the general audience. He blesses, greets, has just stroked a child that parents held out to him – when three shots are fired. The white cassock turns red, the Pope slumps, falls into the arms of his private secretary Stanislaw Dziwisz. Bodyguards throw themselves over the severely injured man.

In a race against time, the ambulance car struggles through the Roman rush hour. In the Gemelli Clinic, doctors are trying to stop the blood loss and sew up the torn intestine in a five-hour operation. John Paul II. survived – thanks to his robust constitution and with the heavenly support of Our Lady of Fatima, as he was firmly convinced until the very end.

Three times the Turkish professional killer Ali Agca shot from a supposedly deadly distance. When John Paul II. visited him in the high-security Rebibbia prison at the end of 1984, was actually only concerned with one question: "Why aren't you dead?? I know that I aimed precisely."Agca had asked the pope at length about the "powerful goddess of Fatima," which apparently put him out of commission, Dziwisz writes in his 2007 memoir. The pope was certain: one hand had fired, another, a "motherly hand, guided the trajectory of the bullet" and allowed him to stop "at the threshold of death".

Unsolved mystery
For 30 years, the background of the Pope's assassination has been one of the unsolved mysteries of criminal history. Agca, then 23, was caught near the scene of the crime, convicted, extradited to Turkey in 2000 after 17 years in prison in Italy – and released a year ago. About his backers and accomplices, about motives and logistics one gropes in the dark until today.

Already in 1979, before the pope's visit to Istanbul, Agca, the Turkish terrorist from the Grey Wolves, had loudly announced that he wanted to kill John Paul II. want to kill. During his interrogations by the Italian judiciary, he incriminated first the Bulgarian secret service, then also the KGB. Soon he got entangled in contradictions, laid false tracks, obviously tried to blur the lines of connection and to protect helpers. At the big 1985-86 trial of those suspected of being behind it, he presented more than 100 versions. At times he pulled the Islamist card, then he played the confused lone perpetrator, finally claiming: "I am Jesus Christ".

To this day, there is much to suggest that Agca's patrons came from the center of the communist Eastern Bloc. In Moscow, Warsaw, Sofia and East Berlin, the Polish Pope was apparently seen as a serious danger to the entire system. In his memoirs, Dziwisz expressed the view that neither the Turkish Mafia nor the Grey Wolves nor the Bulgarians were behind the plot, but rather the Moscow KGB.

The failed assassination attempt of 13. May 1981 was also a media topic around the beatification of John Paul II. on 1. May. Among the moving accounts of eyewitnesses was that of Sara Bartoli, now 32 years old. "The pope was holding me in his arms when Ali Agca took aim," the woman, who lives near Rome, told Corriere della Sera. She showed the photo of John Paul II. a blond-haired child is handed back into the arm of the father. This child's head, which suddenly appeared in the field of vision before the target, had probably irritated the assassin for a moment. And his shots were not fatal.

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