Thursday, January 12, 2006

Unfinished Business

Less than a year after the death of John Paul II, Turkey has freed the man who attempted to assassinate him back in 1981. Mehmet Ali Agca was released from prison earlier today, after serving 25 years in Turkish and Italian jails for his plot against the pope and the 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist. Agca's attorney said this his client did not receive favorable treatment, and merely benefitted from "current laws" in his native Turkey.

According to his lawyer, Agca now wants to work for the cause of "democracy and culture," whatever that means. Agca's release was cheered by dozens of supporters, including a man who hijacked a Maltese jetliner in 1997, demanding freedom for Agca, calling him a "role model" for everyone who loves the Turkish nation."

If Agca is genuinely interested in the issue of "democracy" he could do everyone a big favor by clearing up a bit of unfinished business about his 1981 plot to kill Pope John Paul II. There have been persistent reports that the Soviet KGB ordered the hit, working through their counterparts in the Bulgarian intelligence service, who reportedly hired Agca. Just last April, Thomas Joscelyn of the Weekly Standard reported that German officials had discovered evidence that confirmed KGB involvement. The evidence was unearthed in the archives of the Stasi, the former East German intelligence organization and consisted of correspondence between the Stasi and their Bulgarian counterparts. In the recently-discovered letters, the spooks reportedly discuss the "hit" order from Moscow, and efforts to cover-up traces of Bulgarian involvement.

Case closed? Not quite. Despite the documentary find, Sofia has continued to deny any involvement in the plot, as has Moscow. But the Bulgarians have been less-than-forthcoming in attempting to prove their innocence. When an Italian parlimentary committee, investigating the Bulgarian connection, reviewd copies of the Stasi correspondence (provided by the Sofia government), they discovered the files had been altered, with names of intelligence operatives blacked out. So much for openess and cooperation from a fellow NATO ally.

As for Agca, he's offered a number of stories down through the years, including claims that Vatican officials regcognized that he was the Messiah, and conspired with him to shoot the Pope. While much of the MSM coverage focused on Agca's alleged instability--and his reported involvement with right-wing Turkish extremists--other journalists (notably Clare Sterling) quickly seized on the Bulgarian connection and provided compelling evidence of a assassination plot that was hatched in Moscow, and carried out by Sofia's agents. Ironically, Agca once admitted that he was part of a Bulgarian plot, then recanted his story, after allegedly receiving threats in prison from Bulgarian agents.

Why did the American media--and the CIA--ignore this story for so long? As Joscelyn, Arnaud de Borchgrave and others have noted, the thought that the KGB might order the assassination of the Pope didn't sit well with media elites, who still favored detente with the Soviets. From the CIA perspective, pursuing the KGB angle might have exposed the agency's close relationship with the Vatican during the 1980s. The agency worked with the Pope and the estern European church to encourage pro-democratic movements behind the Iron Curtain. As an early supporter of the Solidarity labor movement--dating back to its inception in the late 1970s--the pontiff was a threat to the Soviets, and (eventually) a target for elimination.

Twenty-five years later, Mehmet Al Agca can finally shed new light on that fateful day in St. Peter's Square. As a "democratic activist," he should tell us--truthfully--who hired him, and the nature of his relationship with Bulgarian intelligence. The world has the right to know, once and for all, if the attempted assassination of the John Paul II was indeed the handiwork of the Evil Empire and its cronies in Sofia.

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