Page 2, 20th April 1984

20th April 1984
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Page 2, 20th April 1984 — The plot to kill the Pope brought into new focus
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Locations: Rome, Sofia

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The plot to kill the Pope brought into new focus

WILL A limpet-like nun 's efforts make it possible to expose the late Yuri Andropov?

It was sturdy Sister Letizia who hung on to Mehmet All Agca's arm until Carabinieri got to him after he had fired on the Pope on May 13, 1981.

The international conspiracy theory should be tested shortly as the investigating magistrate is completing his enquiries. It is expected that three Bulgarians and four Turks will be committed for trial for a conspiracy to kill the Pope.

The magistrate, Ilario Martella, has persisted with the thesis of a "Bulgarian connection" despite scepticism even from the United States government and the CIA. As Martella is tightlipped, there is only speculation about his evidence for a charge which disturbs the peace: Bulgarian involvement implies that of Andropov, who was head of the KGB at the time. and more generally of Soviet leadership.

Some of those involved in the investigation, who have proved reliable on other occasions, have told me there is Certain proof of Bulgarian involvement but without exposing what it is. I can see one possibility of obtaining clinching evidence. Ali 'Agca claims two aBitlgarians. Sergei Antonov and Todor Aivazov, drove him to St Peter's on May 13 in a rented blue Alfetta. It may have been possible through car-rent companies, to check whether Bulgarians hired such an Alfetta.

Claire Sterling, in The Time of the Assassins, makes a powerful case against the Bulgarians who have been described as "the operative branch of the KGB in Italy."

Her accusations brought a response from Wilfred Burdick who, in a Bulgarian magazine, called her "the would-be twentieth-century annihilator of the Bulgarian people".

Put baldly Sterling's thesis is that All Agca acquired a reputation as a right-wing killer in Turkey where he was assisted to escape from prison after conviction of assassinating a leftwing newspaper editor. (She claims All Agca was payrolled by someone long before the assassination, that he was merely an accomplice but took the rap confident he was to be sprung from Istanbul prison).

He moved to Bulgaria, where security forces must have been aware of his identity, and lodged at the luxurious Vitosha Hotel where all guests are under constant surveillance. Re was in

contact with the Turkish "Mafia" which, in association with the Bulgarian secret service using the state Kintex importexport firm, operates from Sofia selling weapons to Turkish and other terrorists while transporting drugs from Turkey to Western Europe.

According to Sterling, All Agca with his convenient reputation as a rightwing killer. was sent to Italy as a hit man for the Bulgarian secret service agents there. He was to kill Lech Walesa. the Solidarity movement leader, during his visit to Italy.

For some reason the assassination attempt did not take place but All Agca tried to kill the man seen as the inspirer and defender of Solidarity (the Pope). In other words. the Russians were using the Bulgarian secret service to get rid of a man they saw as a threat to their control of East Europe.

The Bulgarians, in turn, used a man known as a Muslim -rightwinger. But for the limpetlike nun, All Agca would have been killed after killing the Pope. When the promise that for the second time he would be sprung from prison proved empty. Ali Agca talked.

All Agca has lied more than once, Martella has sent him a judicial communication for libelling Antonov, the imprisoned Bulgarian airlines employee. on one aspect of the Walesa assassination allegations. But this has not shaken Martella's conviction that there was an international conspiracy against the Pope. Evidently he also discounts the theory that All Agca is merely rehearsing a story fed to him by Italian security services.

One leak from the investigation is that when, after his conviction, Ali Agca supplied precise details of his Bulgarian contacts including descriptions of their apartments, the names he gave meant nothing to Martella. But there was another investigation in course into Bulgarians who had suborned Luigi Scriccioio. director of the Socialist trade union's foreign affairs' office. (He gave the Bulgarians all details of Walesa's visit in advance as well as trying to contact the Red Brigades when they were holding the US General James Lee Dozier).

Martella showed photographs of the Bulgarians who payrolled Scricciolo, mixed with others, to Ali Agca and he recognised two: he had been using the code names by which they made enquiry in Trent, North Italy. This uncovered a huge armsdrug ring in which the Turkish Mafia, working from the Bulgarian capital. was heavily involved. The concomitance of these enquiries explains why Italians tend to credit Bulgarian participation in a papal assassination plot.

As several Western governments do not seem to want to know about the possible international conspiracy, Martella's persistence must seem wrongheaded particularly to those who regard Italy as a Mickey Mouse country. But the Italian judiciary is fully independent and frequently upsets political applecarts.

It is true that some magistrates have political alliances, but Martella has no reputation for this. Courageous magistrates have pursued investigations against terrorists and the underworld. Often, it must be admitted, their circumstantial evidence does not persuade juries.

Sergei Antonov is imprisoned in Rome but the two Bulgarian Embassy employees (Todor Aivazov, the paymaster, and Major Z,elio Vasilev, aide to the Military attache) have returned to Bulgaria.

Of course all eyes will be on 26-year-old Ali Agca who made a brief appearance on television last year, when questioned in Rome about the kidnapping of 15 year-old Emanuela Orlandi, a Vatican citizen. The kidnappers had demanded Agca's release in exchange for the kidnapped girl but Agca, whose face recalls early portraits of St Francis, insisted he did not want an exchange.

He must be dead scared to leave prison. There seems little prospect of this: terrorists in Italy can have their sentences reduced only if they collaborate with justice before their conviction. Agca did not talk before or during his trial in July 1982 which was simply to ascertain his guilt in firing two shots against John Paul H.

But he has good reasons to talk in the conspiracy trial which will turn largely on his declarations to Martella. And if the Bulgarian connection is not proved, egg will be all over Martella's face.

Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witts, co-authors of Pontiff are said to be working on a book which tells who is behind the papal assassination attempt. If so, news of the imminent completion of the Italian investigation must spur them on. Already a large part of Pontiff is devoted to the assassination attempt with the KGB again the villain.

The Sterling and ThomasMorgan Wins versions differ in many ways. I am more sceptical of the latter as 1 spot many mistakes and misunderstandings in their coverage of Vatican matters,




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