VATICAN CITY —
The Turkish gunman who tried unsuccessfully to assassinate Pope John Paul in 1981 returned to the Vatican Saturday to lay white flowers on the late pontiff's tomb.
A Vatican spokesman described the surprise visit by Mehmet Ali Agca, who was later forgiven by John Paul, as brief, and said Agca paused in silent meditation before leaving two bunches of white roses. Agca also asked to meet with Pope Francis while there.
Agca called the Italian daily la Repubblica on Saturday to announce he had arrived in the Vatican, his first visit since the assassination attempt and exactly 31 years after John Paul met him in prison.
John Paul made that visit to his attacker in an Italian prison three years after the shooting, and later interceded to gain his release in 2000. Agca was then extradited to Turkey, where he was convicted for the 1979 killing of a Turkish journalist. He completed a 10-year sentence there in 2010.
The attack on John Paul, who died in 2005, left many unanswered questions about potential accomplices. Agca initially said he acted alone but later sought to link Bulgaria and the Soviet Union to the plot.
In 2006, an Italian parliamentary commission concluded "beyond any reasonable doubt" that the Soviet Union was responsible for the attack. However, that theory has never been proven.
The commission said the Soviet bloc saw the pope as a danger because of his support for the Solidarity labor movement in his native Poland.
Solidarity was the first free trade union in communist Eastern Europe, and its resistance to communist rule was widely seen as instrumental in the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The Vatican on Saturday gave a cool response to Agca's request to meet with Pope Francis.
"He has put his flowers on John Paul's tomb; I think that is enough," Vatican spokesman father Federico Lombardi told la Repubblica.
Portions of this report are from Reuters; some information for this report comes from AP.