Pope inquiry blames Russia

Senator Paolo Guzzanti said the findings of the commission showed “beyond all reasonable doubt” that Moscow’s military secret service, the GRU, was responsible for the shooting of the late pope in St Peter’s Square.

The claim has reopened old Cold War wounds between Italy and Russia which immediately denied the finding as “totally absurd”.

“This commission believes, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the leaders of the USSR took the initiative to eliminate Pope Karol Wojtyla and that they communicated this decision to the military secret service ….to commit a crime of unique gravity, without equal in modern history,” according to a draft of the report.

The conclusions were contained in a chapter of the report by the Mitrokhin Commission which was set up by the Italian parliament to investigate Cold War secrets revealed by Vasili Mitrokhin, a Soviet archivist who defected to the West in 1992.

Turkish hitman Ali Agca shot and seriously wounded John Paul II in St Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981 and he was subsequently put on trial in July 1981 sentenced to life imprisonment in Italy.

Agca was freed in June 2000 after being pardoned by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

Despite rumours linking Agca with the Bulgarian secret services, and by extension the Russian KGB, the reasons for the attack have always been shrouded in mystery.

Solidarity link

Historians have long held that John Paul II’s support for the Solidarity-inspired democracy movement in Poland was a thorn in the side of the Soviet Union, and the late pope has been credited with helping to tear down the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Italy put three Bulgarians and three Turks on trial in 1986 on charges that they had orchestrated the murder bid, but they were acquitted when prosecutors were unable to prove a link with Agca.

The commission report now concludes that one of the Bulgarians acquitted in 1986 for lack of evidence, Sergei Antonov, was indeed in St Peter’s Square at the time of the shooting, standing close to Agca.

A photograph purporting to show Antonov in the crowd, sporting a moustache and heavy glasses, was printed in Italian newspapers Thursday.

A lawyer for Antonov, head of Bulgaria’s national airline in Rome, had previously argued a case of mistaken identity, but the Commission said police scientists had confirmed the man as Antonov.

The commission said the Soviets had “used the Bulgarian agents as cover against possible failure.”

The Russians also used the East German secret service, the Stasi, to spread “disinformation and media poisoning,” which Guzzanti said had been achieved with excellent results.

The full parliamentary commission, which has yet to adopt the report, is due to meet next week.


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