ROME – Pope John Paul II's (search) attacker has alleged that Vatican (search) prelates helped him carry out the 1981 shooting in St. Peter's Square — a claim that was quickly dismissed Thursday by a cardinal.
Mehmet Ali Agca (search) shot John Paul in the abdomen on May 13, 1981, while the pope was riding in an open car. He has given conflicting reasons for the attack on the pope, and his motives remain unclear.
"Without the help of priests and cardinals, I would have not been able to carry out that action," Agca was quoted as saying in an interview Thursday with the Italian daily La Repubblica. "The devil is within the Vatican."
But in an apparently contradictory remark, Agca also said in the interview that "nobody in the world knew of my attempt."
Agca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in Italy for the shooting of the pope, and is now serving time in jail for separate crimes.
"Ali Agca has always sidetracked (investigations) rather that disclosing real facts," Cardinal Roberto Tucci, a former organizer of papal trips, told Vatican Radio. "One must be very suspicious of his statements."
Agca's latest remarks came as Italian newspapers reported this week that newly discovered documents show that the attack on the pope was ordered by the Soviet KGB and organized by the Bulgarian secret service with the help of secret police of former East Germany.
According to Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica, documents found in the archive of the Stasi, the secret police of former East Germany, appear to confirm that Bulgarian agents, acting on the orders of their powerful KGB counterparts, used Agca to carry out the attack, while the Stasi was used to coordinate the operation and cover up traces.
The newspapers say the files have been given to Bulgaria and will be made available to an Italian parliamentary commission that investigates the activities of Europe's former communist regimes in Italy.
The recovered papers consist mainly of letters detailing the cooperation between East German and Bulgarian agents to avoid blame for the attack from falling on communist bloc countries, Corriere said. It was not immediately clear whether the documents contained direct proof of the conspiracy.
"We must now see what emerges from the Stasi documents. The suspicion is that the Bulgarians were carrying out orders coming from the Soviet KGB," said Tucci. "But let's leave the task of examining the papers to magistrates and historians."
There has long been speculation the assassination attempt was carried out at the request of Soviet leaders, who were allegedly alarmed by the pope's support for the Solidarity trade union in Poland and his outspoken opposition to communist regimes.
Three Bulgarians suspected of complicity in the shooting were acquitted by an Italian court because of a lack of evidence.
John Paul sought to lay the issue to rest in 2002, declaring during a visit to Bulgaria that he never believed there was a Bulgarian connection to Agca.
However, in his recently published book, "Memory and Identity: Conversations Between Millenniums," the pope returned on the issue by saying that Agca had been maneuvered by another party.
"Ali Agca, as everyone says, is a professional assassin. The shooting was not his initiative, someone else planned it, someone else commissioned him," the pope wrote.