Italians Blame Soviets for '81 Pope Attack
By VICTOR L. SIMPSON
The Associated Press
Thursday, March 2, 2006; 4:26 PM
ROME -- An Italian parliamentary commission has concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 shooting of Pope John Paul II, the first time an official body has blamed the Kremlin for the failed assassination.
The draft report, obtained by The Associated Press Thursday, said the pope was considered a threat to the Soviet bloc because of his support for the Solidarity labor movement in his native Poland. Solidarity was the first free trade union in communist eastern Europe.
The Italian report said Soviet military intelligence _ and not the KGB _ was responsible. Russian Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov called the accusation "absurd."
"All assertions of any kind of participation in the attempt on the pope's life by Soviet special services, including foreign intelligence, are completely absurd," he said, according to the Interfax news agency.
In its report, the commission said Moscow was alarmed because "Poland was the main military base of the Warsaw Pact, its main supply lines and troop concentrations were there."
"This commission believes, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the leaders of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate the pope Karol Wojtyla," the document said. Wojtyla was John Paul's Polish name.
The draft has no bearing on any judicial investigations, which have long been closed. If the commission approves the report in its final form at a meeting Tuesday, it will be the first time an official body has blamed the Soviet Union.
The report also said a photograph shows that Sergei Antonov, a Bulgarian man acquitted of involvement in the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt, was in St. Peter's Square when the pontiff was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca.
The Bulgarian secret service was allegedly working for Soviet military intelligence, but the Italian court held the evidence was insufficient to convict the Bulgarians in the plot.
Agca, a Turk, 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 Bulgaria, Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimiter Tsanchev told reporters the case was closed with the Italian court decision in March 1986. He also referred to comments by John Paul during his visit to Bulgaria in May 2002.
"The pope said at the time that he never believed in the Bulgarian connection," Tsanchev said.
Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for shooting the pope and 5 1/2 more years in Turkey for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci. He was released from the Turkish prison on Jan. 12 but returned days later when prosecutors said he must serve more of his 10-year term for killing Ipekci. He will be released in 2010.
The Italian commission was originally established to investigate any KGB penetration of Italy during the Cold War.
The commission president, Sen. Paolo Guzzanti, said he decided to investigate the 1981 shooting after John Paul said in his book "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums" that "someone else planned it, someone else commissioned it." The book came out weeks before the pope's death in April.
The passage drew immediate interest because during John Paul's 2002 visit to Bulgaria, he appeared to put the issue to rest, saying he never believed there was a Bulgarian connection to Agca.
The report said the commission considered all the evidence gathered during trials in Italy as well as information from a French anti-terrorism judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere. That information apparently stemmed from the French investigation of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, a terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, held in France since his capture in Sudan in 1994.
Antonov's lawyer, Giuseppe Consolo, said the photograph was a case of mistaken identity. He said the man in the photo came forward during the investigation and was an American tourist of Hungarian origin. The photo was not used as evidence in the trial.
"Since Antonov is alive and well in Bulgaria, they should make a comparison with the physical person, not with other photos," Consolo said.
Guzzanti, a member of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said the photo was not used because the technology of the time couldn't determine if it was really Antonov, but recent computer comparisons with other shots of the Bulgarian show that "there is a 100 percent compatibility."
"We don't believe it's possible to reopen the case against Antonov," Guzzanti told the AP. "We just want to set the record straight."