Book says KGB tried to kill the pope in '81


Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 22, 2007 at 11:10 p.m.

VATICAN CITY — The closest aide to the late Pope John Paul II suggested in a new book that Soviet spies could have been behind the 1981 assassination attempt in which the pontiff was gravely wounded by a Turkish gunman.

But Stanislaw Dziwisz offered no facts to back up his theory, according to excerpts of "A Life with Karol" provided by Italian publishing house Rizzoli on Monday.

Dziwisz, now a cardinal and archbishop of Krakow, Poland, was John Paul's closest aide for 40 years., also recalled how the pope spent the day of the Sept. 11 attacks praying in his chapel and watching televised news accounts of the terror strikes.

"He was worried, incredibly worried that it wouldn't end there, that the attacks would set off an endless spiral of violence," Dziwisz writes.

The book comes out Wednesday in Italy and Jan. 29 in Poland, Rizzoli said.

Of the assassination attempt against John Paul, Dziwisz wrote: Mehmet "Ali Agca was a perfect killer. Sent by those who thought the pope was dangerous."

"Who was immediately frightened, very frightened, by the announcement that a Polish pope had been elected? So? How can we not think of the communist world? How can we not be led … at least hypothetically, to the KGB?"

Agca shot and seriously wounded John Paul on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square. The bullets hit the pontiff in the abdomen, left hand and right arm but missed vital organs.

There has been speculation that agents from Bulgaria helped plot the assassination attempt because of that country's ties with the Soviet KGB, which reportedly was alarmed by the pope's support for the Solidarity trade union in Poland. Solidarity was the first free trade union in communist eastern Europe.

Agca has changed his story often and investigators said it was never clear who he was working for. He initially blamed the Soviets. In 1991, then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denied there was KGB complicity.

In 2002, John Paul sought to lay the issue to rest, declaring he never believed there was a Bulgarian connection to Agca.

Based on conversations with Italian journalist Gian Franco Svidercoschi, the book includes Dziwisz's account of the ride to Gemelli hospital after the shooting.

"The siren wasn't working properly, the traffic was heavy and the driver did not give the horn a moment's rest," Dziwisz says in an excerpt released by the publisher. "The pope's strength was ebbing but he was still conscious. He groaned softly, weaker by the minute. He murmured: 'But why did they do it?' He spoke words of forgiveness for the person who has shot him."

Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the attack and then 5 years in Turkey for killing journalist Abdi Ipekci. The late pontiff met with Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting.

Agca was released from the Turkish prison in January, but returned days later when prosecutors said he must serve more of his 10-year term for killing Ipekci. He is due to be released in 2010.

The book includes the aide's recollection of the day, in April 2005, when John Paul died.

"We were crying, how could we not cry? It was tears of pain and joy. And then all the lights went on ... Then, I can't remember. It was as if it had suddenly become dark. It was dark over me, it was dark inside of me."

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