Man who shot Pope John Paul II returns to the Vatican to lay flowers

Mehmet Ali Agca visited the tomb of Pope John Paul 31 years after he met with the Pontiff in prison

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The Independent Online

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who attempted to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981, returned to the Vatican on Saturday to lay white flowers at the tomb of the former Pontiff.

Turkish-born Agca shot Pope John Paul II four times at close range on 13 May 1981, with one bullet narrowly missing his heart.

A Vatican spokesman said Agca's visit, which only lasted a few minutes, was believed to be his first since the assassination attempt. Rev. Ciro Benedettini said Agca's flowers, just like those left by other visitors, were later removed by workers at St. Peter's Basilica.

John Paul forgave Agca following the shooting and visited him in a Rome prison two years later in 1983. Agca visited John Paul's tomb on the 31st anniversary of that meeting, 27 December.

Video: Watch Mehmet Ali Agca visit Pope John Paul II's tomb

The Polish-born Pontiff intervened to gain Agca's release in 2000. He was then extradited to Turkey for the 1979 killing of a journalist, completing that sentence in 2010.

Agca's motives for shooting the Pope are still unclear: at the time he said he acted alone, although he previously belonged to a far-right group. Agca later suggested the attack was masterminded by the Bulgarian and Soviet secret services, although no evidence of such a claim has ever been uncovered.

Italian TV showed a brief video of Agca visiting the tomb, with the Turk heard saying, "A thousand thanks, saint," and "Long live Jesus Christ."

He also said: "Today I have come because on Dec. 27, 1983, I met the Pope."

Agca had requested a meeting with Pope Francis but the Vatican felt the laying of flowers at John Paul II's tomb was sufficient.