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Saint Pope John Paul II (Part 4 - Assassination Attempts)

First Attempt

Beginning in August of 1980, a man by the name of Mehmet Ali Agca began criss-crossing the Mediterranean with different passports and identities. He met with three men in Rome, a fellow Turkish man and two Bulgarians with the upcoming operation being commanded by Zilo Vassilev. Zilo was serving as the Communist Bulgarian military attaché in Italy. According to later testimony, the mission was for Mehmet and a backup gunman to open fire and kill the Pope in Saint Peter's Square.

On May 13th, 1981, Pope John Paul II entered Saint Peter's Square to address a waiting audience. Mehmet and his fellow gunman were sitting waiting, writing postcards. Once they caught site of the Pope, Mehmet fired fore shots at exactly 5:17PM with a 9mm Browning semi-automatic pistol. Pope John Paul II was hit with all four rounds - two struck him in his abdomen perforating his colon and small intestine while the other two hit his left index finger and right arm. Standing near him were two bystanders who were also hit - Ann Odre and Rose Hall of New York.

Pope John Paul II was rushed to the Vatican complex and then placed in an ambulance to the Gemelli Hospital. He was immediately rushed into surgery, and although both bullets missed his abdominal aorta and mesenteric artery he lost nearly 75% of his blood. He regained consciousness for a few minutes and grabbed one of the doctor's arms, telling him to not remove the Brown Scapular he wore.

This assassination occurred on the feast day of the Virgin Mary's appearance at Fatima. Pope John Paul II said the Virgin Mary had saved his life, and it was her hand that guided the bullet away from his heart. (The Vatican would later announce in 2000 that the third message of Fatima was a vision of this assassination attempt). Pope John Paul II would later write:

Could I forget that the event in St. Peter's Square took place on the day and at the hour when the first appearance of the Mother of Christ to the poor little peasants has been remembered for over sixty years at Fátima, Portugal? For in everything that happened to me on that very day, I felt that extraordinary motherly protection and care, which turned out to be stronger than the deadly bullet.

Mehmet was grabbed by a nun while attempting to flee after the shooting and arrested by the Vatican security chief Camillo Cibin. Mehmet was sentenced in 1981 to life imprisonment. Shortly after the shooting, Pope John Paul II asked the world to

"pray for my brother [Ağca] ... whom I have sincerely forgiven."

He would later privately meet with Mehmet in 1983 at Rome's Rebibbia Prison. Though the two eventually forged a deep friendship, Mehmet initially wrote that "to me the Pope was the incarnation of all that is capitalism". At the Pope's request, Mehmet was pardoned by Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2000 but was extradited to Turkey and remained in prison for other crimes until 2010. There are two prevailing theories behind the assassination attempt - one that the Bulgarian Communist Secret service working at the behest of the Soviet Union ordered the assassination, the other that the attack was orchestrated by an ultra-nationalist Turkish group called "The Grey Wolves".

Second Attempt

On May 12th, 1982, Pope John Paul II visited Fatima Portugal to thank the Virgin Mary for his life being spared the year earlier at Saint Peter's Square. A Spanish priest, Father Juan Maria Fernandez y Krohn attended the ceremony but had been growing angry about the changes in the Church that had come out of the second Vatican Council. In 1979 just a few years before, Fernandez had been expelled from the FSSPX for showing signs of mental instability and for criticizing the Archbishop for being "took weak in opposition to the Pope". In 1980, he separated his priesthood from the Archbishop and joined a Sedevacantist group.

During the Pope's address that day, he jumped up from the crowd dressed in a cassock and shouted "Down with the Pope, Down with the Second Vatican Council" and attempted to stab the Pope with a 40 cm long bayonet of a Mauser rifle. Though unclear if he actually was able to wound the Pope, any wound that was inflicted was minor. Security quickly arrested him and the Pope blessed the young priest. Fernandez was convicted of attempted murder and served six and a half years in prison. He stated during his trial that he was opposed to the Vatican reforms, believed the Pope was in league with the Soviet Union and that the Communist church had infiltrated the Catholic Church.

He served three years in a Lisbon prison and was released in 1985. Because he used force against the Pope, Canons 1331 and 1370 came into effect and he was excommunicated immediately. Fernandez would later be charged with arson in Brussels (1996) and attempted to assault King Albert II of Belgium (2000) and broke through protester lines and charged at Juan Carlos I of Spain.

Communist Smear Attempts

In 1983 the Polish security service (Section D of the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa Communist security forces) attempted to humiliate and discredit the Pope by claiming he had fathered an illegitimate child. Captain Grzegorz Piotrowski (one of the murderers of Jerzy Popieluszko) admitted later that they drugged the secretary of the Catholic magazine Tygodnik Powszechny and tried to make her admit to having sexual relations with the Pope when he had worked there earlier in his Priest days.

When that failed, the SB attempted to blackmail a priest of Cracow Andrzej Bardecki by planting false memoirs in his apartment. Before the SB could "discover" them, the plot had been exposed and the Captain named as a conspirator.

Foiled Third Attempt

In 1994, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (future mastermind of the 9/11 attacks) and Ramzi Yousef entered the Philippines underfinancing from the Al-Qaeda terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden. Over the next few months, the terror organization laundered men, money and supplies into the Philippines for a major series of terror attacks. They initially attempted an assassination of the US President Bill Clinton who was in the Philippines for a five-day tour of Asian in November of 1994 but abandoned the plan due to the complexities and short time available to plan the attack.

Yousef and the terror cell rented a room in manila and began making bombs. They tested these bombs in December of 1994 - first by placing a bomb under a seat in the Greenbelt movie theater (December 1) that injured several and the second by placing a bomb on Philippine Airlines Flight 434 over Okinawa. The bomb on the plane detonated on December 11th, killing a Japanese Businessman and wounding 10 others. Miraculously the plan was able to make an emergency landing after the explosion.

The cell now came up with a three phase plan -

  1. Assassinate Pope John Paul II during the World Youth Day celebration in Manilla. The plan was for a suicide bomber to dress as a priest and detonate himself as the motorcade drove by. This attack had almost 20 men trained and ready and was intended to divert attention to phase 2

  2. Phase two was designed to detonate bombs on 11 US-bound airliners. If successful the death toll would have been nearly 4,000

  3. Phase three was to steal a plane in Virginia, load it with explosives and crash it into the CIA headquarters

The plan was foiled when on the evening of January 6th (6 days before Pope John Paul II's visit) one of the men in the apartment accidentally started a kitchen fire. Firefighters alerted police that there were several suspicious boxes near the apartment and anti-terror police soon stormed the building. Yusef and KSM had left the Philippines during this time and escaped to Pakistan. On January 7th, at 230am, police stormed the apartment and found street maps with the Papal motorcade marked, a rosary, pictures of the Pope, bibles, confessions and several full sets of Priest clothing. Multiple bombs and packages of bomb making kits were located. It is believed that the planned attack would be used as lessons learned for KSM's plotting of 9/11 years later.

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