Pope gunman says he reluctant tool of destiny

By Jude Webber

MONTACUTO, Italy, May 29 (Reuters) - Mehmet Ali Agca, caught red-handed in St Peter's Square after shooting Pope John Paul at point-blank range, could never have denied that his was the finger that pulled the trigger on May 13, 1981. 

But the Pope's revelation this month that one of the Vatican's most closely guarded secrets foretold the failed attempt on his life gives the 43-year-old Turk new ammunition. 

The divine explanation is a godsend for Agca, whose motives have never been fully clarified despite three investigations and two trials -- one a probe into whether he was hired by the Bulgarian and Soviet secret services as part a communist plot. 

``It is clear. I was predestined,'' Agca told Reuters in an interview at the prison near the Adriatic port city of Ancona where he has spent the last eight years. 

He described as ``the last piece of the jigsaw'' news that the Pope had disclosed that the attack had been prophesied in a message which three Portuguese shepherd children said they had received from the Virgin Mary in apparitions in 1917. 

The Pope unlocked the third and last ``Secret of Fatima'' at a visit to the Portuguese shrine on the May 13 anniversary of the first apparition, and, 64 years later, of the shooting. 

``I felt I had lost the most precious diamond in the world and that I had searched and searched for it in the Antarctic, in Australia, but on May 13, 2000, I found it was in the garden of my house,'' Agca explained, recalling his emotions as he watched television footage of the Pope's top diplomat reveal the secret. 

The increasingly frail Pope, who almost died in the attack, has long believed the Madonna of Fatima saved his life. 

The Pope has publicly forgiven Agca and met him in jail. But Agca said the Pope had never -- despite his entreaties -- revealed the secret of Fatima and that he had no idea of his destiny. 

``We simply have cameo roles in the mysterious project of God, who is eternal and omnipotent,'' he said, speaking in accented but fluent Italian. 


Agca, who is also convicted of a killing in Turkey, has spent almost half his life in prison -- said notoriety was never his aim. 

``I never wanted to be remembered. This history was imposed on me. I wanted to be an ordinary, anonymous citizen,'' he said. 

But his attack on the Pope, who is credited widely with playing a key role in events that led to the fall of the Iron Curtain, ended Agca's obscurity forever. 

Now a celebrity inmate -- the Vatican's Fatima revelations have put him firmly back in the public eye -- Agca has shown a sharp mind and ease with the media since his arrest, as well as a keen understanding of how to handle the attention. 

Although describing himself as ``not a super-intelligent person, an average person'' he has also styled himself ``an expert in psychology, a self-made man'' from years of prison study. 

Fixed now in the sights of his intense, dark brown eyes is one goal -- release from the life sentence of which he has served 19 years, including 10 in solitary confinement. 

The man who claimed in court to be Jesus Christ is hoping for divine providence to help him now. 


Agca sent a letter pleading ``Your Holiness, help me'' to mark the anniversary of the shooting, and followed it up with a telegram on the Pope's 80th birthday on May 18. 

``I am hoping for the diplomatic intercession of the Vatican (for my release),'' he said, describing his attack on the Pope as ``a tragedy'' and the Pontiff himself as ``at times like my grandfather, at times as if he were like a child.'' 

He added: ``They should do it (intercede) now because they have revealed the third secret of Fatima.'' 

The focus of Agca's dream is Pope John Paul's jubilee for inmates -- a special ceremony to be held on July 9 at Rome's tough Rebibbia jail during the Catholic Church's millennium celebrations that he hopes will hasten his return home. 

The Vatican said a year ago that it did not object to his being sent back to Turkey but then president Oscar Luigi Scalfaro said he had not received a formal clemency request. 

Agca's lawyers say they have requested clemency, a transfer to Turkey or semi-liberty and that Ankara had sought his extradition to complete a pending jail term in Turkey. A justice ministry spokeswoman said there had been no recent developments and the case was still being studied. 

Agca faces a jail sentence in Turkey for the killing of journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1978. He says he would be happy to go straight to jail if he were allowed to leave Italy. 

But if he were set free, he envisaged a holy life. 

``If the Pope and the Vatican agree, I will go to Fatima to meet (the sole surviving visionary) Sister Lucia. I will understand something of the will of God,'' Agca said. 

The man who demolished his credibility in court with his claims to be Christ said he had found God since seeing a ``supernatural vision...like an ecstasy'' of Jesus dying on the cross in 1983. ``I have seen the existence of God,'' he said. 

``I would modestly become a preacher and diffuse the message of Fatima. The Pope is not the only one who makes sacrifices and dedicates his life to humanity. I can dedicate my life to poverty and chastity,'' he said. 


The question of who ordered the May 13, 1981 attack on the Pope remains a mystery. 

Prosecutors failed at a second trial in 1986 to prove their contention that it was an international plot in which the Bulgarian secret services hired Agca on behalf of Moscow. 

Agca's contradictory testimony and the so-called ``Bulgarian Connection'' trial of him, three Turks and three Bulgarians ended with an ``acquittal for lack of sufficient evidence'' -- a technicality meaning the jury was not convinced of the defendants' innocence but guilt could not be proved. 

Agca, apparently easily agitated, poured forth in a rambling, abstract stream of consciousness when asked whether the secret of the attack, like that of Fatima, would ever be known. 

``I have absolutely no secret. In the past, I've said all I had to say,'' he said. ``I have never tricked anyone.'' 

On Fatima, however, he said there was more to the secret than met the eye. ``There will never be a 22nd century...this is the most important message. The rest is just chatter.'' 

22:04 05-28-00

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