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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Inquiry Says Soviets Behind Pope Attack

APPope John Paul II being helped moments after he was shot in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on May 13, 1981.
ROME -- An Italian parliamentary commission concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 attempt to kill Pope John Paul II -- a theory long alleged but never proved, according to a draft report made available Thursday.

The commission held that the pope was a danger to the Soviet bloc because of his support for the Solidarity labor movement in his native Poland. Solidarity was the first free trade union in communist Eastern Europe.

"This commission believes, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the leaders of the Soviet Union took the initiative to eliminate the pope Karol Wojtyla," said a draft of the commission's report obtained by The Associated Press. Wojtyla was John Paul's Polish name.

The draft has no bearing on any judicial investigations, which have long been closed.

If the report is approved, it would be the first time that an official body had blamed the Soviet Union. The report also said a photograph showed that a Bulgarian man acquitted of involvement in the May 13, 1981, assassination attempt was in St. Peter's Square when the pontiff was shot by Mehmet Ali Agca.

The Bulgarian secret service purportedly was working for Soviet military intelligence, but the Italian court held that the evidence was insufficient to convict the Bulgarians in the plot.

Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov denied the report, saying, "All assertions of any kind of participation in the attempt on the pope's life by Soviet special services, including foreign intelligence, are completely absurd."

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev denied there was KGB complicity in 1991.

The Italian report said Soviet military intelligence -- and not the KGB -- was responsible.

Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for shooting the pope and then 5 1/2 years in Turkey for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci. He was released from the Turkish prison Jan. 12 but returned days later when prosecutors said he must serve more of his 10-year term for killing Ipekci. He will be released in 2010.

The Italian commission was originally established to investigate any KGB penetration of Italy during the Cold War.

The commission president, Senator Paolo Guzzanti, said he decided to investigate the 1981 shooting after John Paul said in his book that "someone else planned it, someone else commissioned it." The book came out shortly before the pope's death last year.

The report said the commission used all the evidence gathered during trials in Italy as well as information given by a French anti-terrorism judge.

Sergei Antonov, former Rome station manager of Bulgaria's state airline, claimed during his trial that he was in his office when the pope was shot. Italy had accused him of complicity with Agca.

Antonov's lawyer, Giuseppe Consolo, said it was a case of mistaken identity.

But Guzzanti said recent computer comparisons of the photo with other shots of the Bulgarian show "there is a 100 percent compatibility."

The report must be approved by the full commission, which meets Tuesday.