New charges from Poland’s former communist ruler that Islamic extremists plotted the 1981 assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II are baseless and unbelievable, according to the late Pope’s biographer.
There is “no evidence” to connect Mehmet Ali Agca, the Pope’s would-be assassin, to Islamic groups and Agca had “no Muslim education and was not pious,” George Weigel told CNA in an e-mail April 5.
Weigel said the charges of an Islamic connection were “promoted by Soviet-bloc intelligence at the time of the assassination attempt in order to muddy the waters and, likely, cover the trail.”
Poland’s last communist leader, General Wojciech Jaruzelski, now 87, revived these allegations in a recent interview with the Italian magazine, “Jesus.” He said radical Muslims were the “most logical” origin of Agca’s attack on the Pope May 13, 1981 in Rome.
“There were certainly different countries and different forces that would have liked the Pope to be eliminated, but that didn't mean they gave the order to Ali Agca to kill him,” he told the magazine.
“Besides the Kremlin, there was already then a radical Islam that hated the pontiff and saw in him the head of the crusades.”
Jaruzelski cited the fact that Agca was a Turk and a Muslim and noted the he had earlier threatened to kill the Pope during the Pope’s November 1979 visit to Turkey.
“Behind it were there fundamentalists at work?” Jaruzelski asked. “We don't know. Regardless, looking back, the Islamic 'track' would seem the most logical.”
Weigel, author of two biographical works on the Pope, “Witness to Hope,” and last year’s “The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II – The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy,” dismissed Jaruzelski’s remarks.
“I would no more regard General Jaruzelski as a plausible authority in this matter than I would regard him as a plausible witness in any other matter having to do with his interactions with John Paul II,” he said.
“That a magazine took Jaruzelski seriously tells you more about the current state of Italian journalism, I fear, than it does about what happened on May 13, 1981.”
Weigel suggested that the Polish general was trying to deflect historical attention away from his own repressive regime. Jaruzelski imposed martial law on Poland just six months after the assassination attempt.
Although Agca's motivations have never been made clear, some have linked him to a Turkish terrorist organization, the “Grey Wolves,” that may have been paid by Bulgarian operatives to assassinate the Pope. Weigel said there is evidence to connect Agca to “Soviet-bloc intelligence services.”
Agca shot the Pope repeatedly, wounding him in the arm and hand. Two shots hit him in the stomach, passing through his intestine.
The Pope later noted that the date of the shooting was also the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He credited his survival to her intercession. He later donated one of the bullets that hit him to the shrine in Fatima, Portugal so it could be placed in the crown of the Madonna.
In a 2008 book, “A Life with Karol,” the Pope's personal secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, said that Pope John Paul believed Soviet leaders had ordered the attack because of his anti-communist influence in his native Poland.
The cardinal said that “all roads, however disparate they are, lead to the KGB.”