From 1978 until his passing in 2005, Pope John Paul II presided as the leader of the Catholic Church and the ruler of the Vatican City State. He was eventually canonized as Pope Saint John Paul II. But what happened to Pope John Paul II’s attempted assassin?
Mehmet Ali Aca, the attempted assassin who shot Pope John Paul II four times in 1981, was forgiven by Pope John Paul II. Aca was deported back to Turkey when the Italian President pardoned him for the crime at the Pope’s request. Aca requested a meeting with Pope Francis in 2014, but Francis declined.
The Assassination Attempt
In August 1980, Aca began crisscrossing the Mediterranean region, changing passports and aliases, probably to disguise his real point of origin in Sofia, Bulgaria. He came to Rome by train from Milan on May 10, 1981.
Aca later testified that he met with three collaborators in Rome, one of whom was a fellow Turk and two of whom were Bulgarians, and that Zilo Vassilev, the Bulgarian military attaché in Italy, led the operation. He claimed that Turkish mafioso Bechir Celenk entrusted him with this duty in Bulgaria. According to Le Monde diplomatique, Abdullah atl orchestrated the assassination attempt in exchange for 3 million marks paid to the Grey Wolves by Bechir Celenk.
The plan, according to Aca, was for him and backup gunman Oral elik to open fire in St. Peter’s Square before fleeing to the Bulgarian embassy under cover of a small explosion. They sat in the square on May 13th, writing postcards in preparation for the Pope’s arrival. Aca shot six rounds at the Pope as he passed, severely injuring him. Nonetheless, he was apprehended by onlookers and Vatican security chief Camillo Cibin and prevented from carrying out the murder or leaving. Two bullets lodged in Pope John Paul II’s lower intestine and the other two in his left hand and right arm. Two witnesses were injured as well. Elik panicked and ran without detonating or discharging his bomb. (Source: Religion Fandom)
Aca’s Incarceration, Release, and Re-arrest
Aca was sentenced to life in prison for an assassination attempt in Italy in July 1981 but was pardoned by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in June 2000 at the Pope’s request. He was then deported to Turkey, where he was imprisoned for the 1979 murder of Abdi Pekçi and two bank raids in the 1970s. Despite a November 2004 appeal for early release, a Turkish court concluded that he would not be eligible for parole until 2010. Nonetheless, on January 12, 2006, he was granted parole.
Aca was sentenced to life in prison for the murder. He had only been imprisoned in Turkey for around six months when he escaped. Mustafa Demirba’s lawyer explained that he was released owing to an amnesty in 2000 that reduced his sentence by ten years. The court commuted those ten years based on a new penal code article; he was then eligible for parole based on good behavior.
According to the French AFP news agency, Turkish judicial authorities have yet to explain which legal resources he had access to. Former Justice Minister Hikmet Sami Türk, who was in government at the time of Aca’s extradition, claimed that his release was, at best, a serious mistake and that he should not have been released before 2012.
On January 20, 2006, the Turkish Supreme Court determined that his time spent in Italy could not be deducted from his Turkish sentence, and he was sent to prison. (Source: Religion Fandom)