Soviet Union 'ordered Pope shooting'





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 today 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 said "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.

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.

The Pope 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 led to the formation of the East Bloc's first freely elected government and 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.

The report said "Bulgarian authorities at the time lied as did the witnesses they sent" and 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.


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