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Italian Panel Concludes Moscow Ordered John Paul's Assassination

Twenty five years after Turkish gunman Ali Agca tried to kill Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square, a report by an Italian parliamentary commission says the killing was ordered by the Soviet Union.

An Italian parliamentary commission says it has concluded beyond any reasonable doubt, that the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 attempt to kill Pope John Paul II.The commission's report is due to be presented to parliament next month.

Pope John Paul II was shot in Saint Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, as he waved at crowds from his open-top car. He was wounded, but not fatally. Turkish gunman Ali Agca was arrested moments after the shooting.

Many believed Agca was paid by the Bulgarian secret services, which in turn worked for the Soviet Union. But a trial in Rome ended with an acquittal for lack of evidence. Agca was sentenced to life in prison for attempted murder.

Pope John Paul II pardoned Agca, and, in 2000, Italian authorities extradited him to Turkey, where he is serving prison time for a separate offense.

Commission President Senator Paolo Guzzanti says: "today it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that a number of Bulgarians were involved in the plot to kill the pope." But, he says, "what is important is that the order to kill Pope John Paul II came directly from the Kremlin."

The commission says the Soviet decision was relayed to the military secret services.

Senator Guzzanti said he is certain today that it was not the KGB that was responsible, but the GRU, the Soviet military intelligence. In Russia, Foreign Intelligence Service spokesman Boris Labusov reacted to the statement, calling the accusation absurd. In Bulgaria, Foreign Ministry spokesman Dimitar Tsanchev said the case was closed with the court decision in Rome in March 1986.

Pope John Paul II strongly supported Poland's Solidarity Union, the first free trade union in communist Eastern Europe. The pope is widely believed to have played a vital role in events, which led to the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.

The Italian commission was originally established to investigate any KGB penetration of Italy during the Cold War. It probed revelations of Vasili Mitrokhin, a senior Soviet archivist during the Cold War, who defected to Britain in 1992. The investigation into the pope's assassination attempt is just one chapter of a wider report.