Magistrate alleges 'fall-back' plot to kill the Pope in 1981

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The Independent Online
ROME (Reuter) - Fresh evidence has emerged of a possible second plot to kill Pope John Paul in May 1981 if the first one had failed, an Italian magistrate said yesterday.

Rosario Priore said he was investigating a possible fall-back plot to shoot the Pope while he was speaking from the windows of his apartments overlooking St Peter's Square in the Vatican four days after the first attempt.

Mr Priore said the second plot envisaged the use of a sniper, who was to have fired at the Pope with a high-powered rifle during his weekly Angelus on the Sunday after a Turkish gunman, Mehmet Ali Agca, had shot and seriously wounded the Pope on Wednesday 13 May 1981, as he greeted crowds in St Peter's Square.

The investigating magistrate said that his team had returned to the examination of a note found in Agca's pocket after the assassination attempt. Reportedly written on the note was: 'Wednesday 13th in St Peter's square, Sunday 17th when he appears at the balcony.'

'The note has become important again after the acquisition of new documents,' Mr Priore told state televison yesterday. He did not say what the new evidence was. But the television said the revelations may be linked to Oral Celik, a Turk sought over allegations that he was involved in the assassination attempt.

Mr Celik, a childhood friend of Agca, was extradited to Italy from France on 16 December and is under investigation in custody on suspicion of having helped Agca in the attempt.

Pictures of St Peter's Square before the attempt may also shed light on the alleged second plot, Mr Priore said. 'The pictures will help us to understand how the second project was to have been executed, and identify the points from which Agca or other perpetrators were to have carried it out.

Agca was sentenced to life imprisonment after a 1986 trial that failed to prove the so-called 'Bulgarian Connection'. At that trial, Agca and the prosecution alleged that the Bulgarian secret services had conspired with him and others to kill the Pope, who is now 73, on behalf of the former Soviet Union.

Agca alleged that the plot was hatched to stop the Pope's support for the Solidarity trade union in his native Poland.