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Pope’s Gunman Speaks Out on Charges

September 8, 2000

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 spoke out Friday against robbery charges he faces in Turkey, calling the allegations ``a fairy tale.″

Italy pardoned Mehmet Ali Agca in June after he spent nearly 20 years in prison for the attack in St. Peter’s Square. But Agca is now on trial in Istanbul for allegedly robbing a soda factory and a jewelry store and stealing a getaway car in 1979.

Currently serving 10 years for the murder of a liberal Turkish newspaper editor, Agca faces between 15 and 30 more years in prison if convicted on the new charges.

During a hearing Friday, a court here listened to testimony from the jewelry store owner, Hamza Fikri Yildirim, who said his employees had identified Agca as the robber of $80,000 worth of jewelry.

Agca’s lawyers say the military tried to pin the robbery on him for political reasons. Agca is thought to have been close to an ultranationalist Turkish group, the Gray Wolves, which took part in violent street clashes against leftists in the late 1970s.

Agca, looking stern, insisted upon his innocence in a courtroom crammed with journalists and armed soldiers.

``This is a fairy tale within a fairy tale,″ he said.

Agca was extradited to Turkey after Italy pardoned him at the request of John Paul. He has kept up wild verbal attacks against the Vatican since his extradition and is now accusing European Commission President Romano Prodi, an Italian, of threatening him with death.

In a handwritten letter distributed by his lawyer after Friday’s hearing, Agca claimed Prodi sent him a message warning him against revealing alleged scandals surrounding the Vatican to Protestants.

``If you sell the Vatican to Protestants, I’ll send your dead body to Turkey even if you are the Messiah,″ Agca claimed Prodi’s message said.

Agca declared himself to be the messiah while in prison in Italy. Friday’s letter was signed ``Messiah Mehmet Ali Agca.″

Defense lawyer Ozbay said he was going to set up an Internet site for Agca with money donated by a notorious right-wing mobster, currently in jail for leading an armed gang.

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