Agca wants to meet pope

2006-01-10 17:01

Istanbul - The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II almost quarter of a century ago wants to meet his target's successor, his brother was quoted on Tuesday as saying.

Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot and wounded John Paul II, hitting him in the abdomen, on May 13 1981 in St Peter's Square in Rome.

He is due to be freed from jail in Istanbul on Thursday.

"He wants to meet the new (pontiff - Benedict XVI)," his brother Adnan Agca told the Sabah newspaper.

"If the pope grants him an audience he would be ready to go to Italy."

He also suggested that the meeting could take place when Benedict XVI carries out a planned visit to Turkey later this year.

Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi pardoned Agca, now aged 48, in 2000 and he was transferred to Turkey where he had been sentenced to death in absentia in 1981 for the 1979 killing of a journalist, Abdi Ipecki.

On his return he was also found guilty of two charges of armed violence in Istanbul in the 1970s and given a 36-year sentence.

He benefited from a 2002 amnesty and a reduced sentence, according to his lawyer Mustafa Demirbag, who revealed his client would be freed this week.

Demirbag told Sabah Agca had "paid the heavy price of his crime" and should be freed.

When John Paul II died last year Agca pleaded with the Turkish authorities to be allowed to attend the funeral of the man he called his "spiritual brother", but to no avail.

Agca never clearly explained why he tried to kill the pope, and the latter never said if Agca had told him the reason when he visited him in his cell.

However his motives appeared to be at least partly political, as Agca was a known member of a far-right nationalist group in Turkey, and had earlier made statements describing the pope as a "capitalist" and a "crusader", meaning anti-Islamic activist.

When Agca was overpowered in St Peter's Square, investigators found a garbled note in his pocket saying: "I killed the pope to protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocides they are perpetrating in El Salvador and Afghanistan."