January 18, 2010 / 9:09 AM / 9 years ago

FACTBOX: The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul

(Reuters) -Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul in 1981, was released from prison in the Turkish capital Ankara on Monday.

Here are some facts about Agca and the path that took him from life as a small-time gangster in Turkey to the would-be assassin on St. Peter’s Square.

- Mehmet Ali Agca was born on January 9, 1958 to a poor Turkish family. As a boy, he was involved in petty crime and smuggling between Turkey and Bulgaria. He became a member of the militant far-right Grey Wolves group as a teenager. In 1979, he murdered Abdi Ipekci, a left-wing journalist. He was sentenced to life in prison but escaped with the help of right-wing comrades after six months and flees to Bulgaria.

- On May 13, 1981, Agca shot Pope John Paul II several times while the pope rode in an open jeep at the start of his weekly audience in St Peter’s Square. Agca was immediately apprehended and arrested. The pope narrowly survived and spent weeks in hospital. Three days after the shooting, he forgave Agca during a live radio broadcast from his hospital bed.

At the time of the shooting, events in the pope’s Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was to lead to the collapse of communism in eastern Europe in 1989. The pope was a strong supporter of the dissident Solidarity trade union in Poland and many people began suspecting that the shooting was part of a larger conspiracy to silence the pope. At the time, John Paul was threatening the stability of the Soviet bloc and had reportedly told the late Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev that if Moscow invaded Poland he would throw his weight behind a resistance movement.

- In July, 1981, an Italian court found Agca guilty of trying to assassinate the pope and sentenced him to life in prison. - In December, 1983, the pope visited him in his Rome jail cell and they chatted privately. The contents of that conversation were never disclosed.

- At a second 1986 trial, Italian prosecutors failed to prove charges that Bulgarian secret services hired Agca on behalf of the Soviet Union to counter the pope’s support for Solidarity. The trial was a spectacle, with Agca changing his version of events several times. During the trial, he spoke mysteriously about wanting to know the Third Secret of Fatima, the last of three messages that the Virgin Mary was said to have given to three shepherd children during a vision in 1917 in Portugal.

- In May 2000, the Vatican revealed the Fatima secret, saying it predicted the assassination attempt on the pope and communist persecution. The investigation of the assassination attempt formally ended in 1997, leaving many unanswered questions.

- In June 2000, Italy pardoned Agca for the pope’s shooting and extradites him to his native Turkey to serve the remainder of a term for the Ipekci murder. - Pope John Paul died on April 2, 2005. - In 2006, an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said in a report that leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the assassination attempt against the pope. “This commission believes, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the leadership of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate Pope John Paul,” the report said. - On Jan 12, 2006, Agca was briefly released from prison in Turkey but the supreme court ordered him to be jailed again. - On Jan 13, 2010, Agca said in comments faxed to Reuters that he wanted to meet Pope Benedict and visit the tomb of Pope John Paul II. He said after his release he would answer questions about the attack on the pope, including whether the Kremlin used the Bulgarian government in the assassination attempt.

Writing by Philip Pullella; editing by David Stamp

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