Thursday, March 02, 2006

Italian commission: Soviet leaders ordered assassination of Pope John Paul II

This seems important, so I'll run the whole thing:

Soviet Union ordered Pope shooting: Italy commission

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) - Leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II in 1981, an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said in a report.

A final draft of the report, which is due to be presented to parliament later this month, was made available to Reuters on Thursday by the commission president, Senator Paolo Guzzanti.

"This commission believes, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the leadership of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate Pope John Paul," the report said.

"They relayed this decision to the military secret services for them to take on all necessary operations to commit a crime of unique gravity, without parallel in modern times," it said.

The report also says "some elements" of the Bulgarian secret services were involved but that this was an attempt to divert attention away from the Soviet Union's alleged key role.

Both Russia and Bulgaria condemned the report.

A 36-page chapter on the assassination attempt was included in a wider report by parliament's Mitrokhin Commission, which probed the revelations of Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior Soviet archivist during the Cold War who defected to Britain in 1992.

Pope John Paul was shot in St Peter's Square on May 13, 1981 by Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca, who was arrested minutes later and convicted of attempted murder.

At the time of the shooting, events in the Pope's Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was eventually to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The Pope was a staunch supporter of Poland's Solidarity union and most historians agree he played a vital role in events that eventually led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.


At a trial in 1986, Italian prosecutors failed to prove charges that Bulgarian secret services had hired Agca to kill the Pope on behalf of the Soviet Union.

"It is completely absurd," said Boris Labusov, spokesman for Russia's foreign intelligence service, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB's First Chief Directorate which operated abroad. "We are tired of denying these assertions."

The report said "Bulgarian authorities at the time lied as did the witnesses they sent" and added that "responsibility of some elements" of Bulgarian secret services "certainly exists".

In Sofia, the government rejected the report's assertions.

"For Bulgaria, this case closed with the court decision in Rome in March 1986," Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said. He also referred to comments made by the late Pope who said during a visit to Bulgaria in May 2002 that he never believed in the Bulgarian connection.

Guzzanti, a senator in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said the commission decided to re-open the report's chapter on the assassination attempt in 2005 after the Pope wrote about it in his last book before dying.

In that book, the Pope said he was convinced the shooting was not Agca's initiative and that "someone else masterminded it and someone else commissioned it".

Guzzanti said his commission heard from investigators in Italy and elsewhere who had probed both the assassination attempt as well as other Cold War-era crimes.

He said the commission had photographic evidence that Sergei Antonov, a Bulgarian cleared of conspiracy at the 1986 trial, was in St Peter's Square with Agca when the Pope was shot.

The photos first emerged in the 1980s but lawyers for Antonov, who worked in the Rome office of Bulgaria's state airline, said the man was a tourist who resembled him.

(Additional reporting by Michael Winfrey in Sofia and Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow)


UPDATE: My links are suddenly dead. It seems both Drudge and Reuters have disappeared this story. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but if I was...

UPDATE 2: Okay, they work again. Weird.