Would-be assassin mourns Pope's death

Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who attempted to assassinate John Paul 24 years ago, said from his prison cell today that he was joining in mourning the pontiff’s death.

The Pope met Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting.

Agca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after almost 20 years behind bars in Italy. He is serving a 17-year prison sentence in Istanbul for earlier crimes in Turkey.

“I participate in the mourning of my Christian Catholic people,” Agca said in a written statement in Italian. He referred to the Pope as “my spiritual brother”.

Agca has given conflicting reasons for shooting the Pope in St Peter’s Square in 1981 and has sometimes suggested that his actions were part of God’s plan.

“The divine plan has come to its conclusion,” Agca said in his hand-written letter.

Suspicions that he acted on behalf of the former Soviet bloc, which feared that the Polish-born Pope would help trigger anti-communist revolts, linger despite denials by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

The Pope has long said he believed the hand of the Virgin Mary deflected Agca’s bullet.

In his letter, Agca said he was writing “the true perfect bible” and signed off the letter: “Mehmet Ali Agca, the Messiah servant”.

Agca is serving a 10-year prison sentence for the 1979 murder of a prominent Turkish newspaper editor and an additional seven years for commandeering a taxi and robbing an Istanbul soft drinks factory.

His lawyers claim he could be released from jail as early as some time this year because of recent changes to Turkish law, although it was unclear if authorities would agree to free him.