by Viviane Hewitt in Rome TURKEY this week informed Vatican and Italian authorities that it was re-opening the case of the 1981 papal assassination attempt by Turkish terrorist Mehmet Ali Agca.
A year after shooting Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981 in a crowded St Peter's Square, Agca, now 32, was sentenced to life imprisonment to be served in solitary confinement in a top security jail at Ascoli Piceno, central Italy.
Turkish legal authorities have now said they intend trying Agca for the papa! murder bid. The gunman, a former member of the Turkish right wing terror gang, the Grey Wolves, was already sentenced to death in absentia in his homeland for the assassination of a Turkish newspaper editor.
In response to Turkey's request, through international legal and diplomatic channels, for "supplementary investigations" by Italy on the papal attack, Ascoli Judge Pierfranco Bruno visited Agca in his cell for fresh interrogations this week.
Sources at the judge's office confirmed that only an official pardon would save Agca's life in Turkey, and unofficial prison reports did not rule out the possibility of a plea to John Paul for intervention with Turkish authorities.
In an historic 1985 encounter, the Pope visited his would-be assassin in jail and during their emotional and strictly prisate 45-minute talk, Agca asked the Pope's forgiveness.
Before his meeting with John Paul, Agca had caused an international controversy with his revelations on the papal assassination plot, which reduced Italian relations with the Soviet Union to an all-time low and distanced the Vatican still further from any kind of reconciliation with the communist eastern-bloc.
Agca, arrested within minutes of firing five times at the Pope, who was greeting pilgrims from his white, open-top jeep, claimed the attack had been commissioned by Bulgarian authorities on the USSR's behalf.
His declarations, in part confirmed but mostly still shadowed in doubt, won credibility because of international circumstances at the time.
Poland was in a state of profound unrest after the advent of the dissident Solidarity trade union, fuelled, the Soviets then alleged, by the Pope's frequent visits to his homeland and declarations of support.