‘Spy Ops’ Episode 4 Recap: Why Did Mehmet Ali Ağca Shoot Pope John Paul II?

The third episode of the Netflix documentary series Spy Ops was about Oleg Gordievsky, a KGB operative who worked for MI6. He was eventually rescued by British intelligence when Oleg’s cover was about to be blown. Operation Pimlico was a daring mission to extract Oleg from Moscow and resettle him in England. Spy Ops Episode 4 is about the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 and the countless theories that emerged that connected agencies with this attempted murder.


Who Is Mehmet Ali Ağca?

Spy Ops Episode 4 begins with Mehmet Ali Ağca, who talks about why he wanted to shoot Pope John Paul II. In the year 1981, Pope John Paul II was standing on his open motorcade at St. Peter’s Square doing his routine meet and greet with the followers. There is a clear image of Ali pointing a gun at the Pope. Ali admits to having shot two bullets at the Pope as his vehicle stopped in front of him.

There was chaos that was unleashed seconds after this assassination attempt, and the man was immediately arrested. He was put on trial by the Italian court. Ali reveals that he attempted to assassinate the Pope only to garner attention. He claims to have no link to any organization or intelligence agency. Ali’s history is presented throughout Spy Ops Episode 4.


He was born into a family of peasants, and he was acquainted with many people who were supporters of the ultra-right-wing political party from Turkey named the Grey Wolves. There was speculation that his ties with the Grey Wolves pushed him to carry out this crime, but Ali has, on many occasions, denied it. Ali agreed to have met several Grey Wolves members, but he assured them that he was not a supporter of that party. In Spy Ops Episode 4 itself, he stated that he would rather be a lone wolf than depend on a group of people to carry out the crime.

Throughout the episode, Ali’s involvement with many different intelligence agencies was questioned by the police, but the court did not have proof to back their claims. It was just his word against the state of the law. Ali was always under suspicion, but there were also plenty of conspiracy theories aiming to understand who could have benefited the most if Pope John Paul II was assassinated. 


Were The Grey Wolves Responsible For The Assassination Attempt?

As mentioned above, the Grey Wolves happen to be an ultra-nationalistic right-wing party that gained popularity in Turkey in the 1980s. Ali Ağca also claims that it was an international pan-Turkish unity party that wanted to become a version of the SS party of Germany. The leader of the party was Alparslan Turkes, who was also called Fuhrer, and he’d fought alongside the Nazis in the Second World War. He wanted to bring about a cultural revolution in the country by getting rid of other tribes and religions in Turkey. The party’s hyper-nationalistic, radical propaganda helped it gather plenty of support from around the country. Their ideology believed in eliminating the Christian faith that had won the crusades centuries ago. This makes them suspects in plotting and executing the attack on Pope John Paul II. Ali Ağca was known to have links with members of the party, which deepened the conspiracy theory even though the man claimed to have acted on his impulse.

Ali’s trail, starting from Turkey to Iran and back to his home country, tells another story. There was no conclusive proof to connect him with the Grey Wolves, but he had a violent history. He had killed the editor of a liberal magazine in Turkey and been sent to jail for it. Ali escaped the prison with the help of the Grey Wolves members, and they gave him a gun to protect himself. There was also a letter written by Ali that stated that the Pope would be killed if he set foot in Turkey.


Is It The KGB That Wants To Kill Pope John Paul II?

The assassination attempt happened in 1981, when the Cold War was still at its peak. The Reagan administration was completely against the Soviet Union and its political ideology. America’s and Soviet Russia’s ideologies divided the world into two blocs, both of which maintained a network of spies. The Soviet Union was the Communist faction that never believed in God and followed socialist ideals. Meanwhile, the United States of America is a pro-religion, democratic state that still follows the principles of capitalism.

The CIA never shied away from pointing fingers at the KGB and Russia if any untoward incident took place. The KGB and Russia were also suspected of being part of the conspiracy to kill Pope John Paul II. Pope John Paul II’s original name was Karol Józef Wojtyła, and he served as the Cardinal of Krakow in Poland. He was very popular in Poland, despite it being a communist nation. The Polish government did not want the country to regress into political dogmatism that was strictly against its communist ideology.


Poland was also worried that Pope John Paul II might cause a revolution and crush the socialist ideas on which the country was built. They wanted to get rid of the anti-communist stance that the church represents. Polish intelligence also placed their man in the Jesuit order to gather intel from the clergymen and to understand the intentions of Pope John Paul II as he gained popularity.

He was able to attract massive crowds in his country, which created a sense of fear among the communist leaders of Poland. All of these were construed only based on speculation. Neither Poland nor Russia had any proof to back their claims. The Americans also could not prove that the KGB plotted to assassinate the Pope.


What Is The Bulgarian Connection?

Ali Ağca claimed during the trial that the Turks acted based on the instigation of the Bulgarian Secret Service. There is a lot of speculation discussed in Spy Ops Episode 4, most of it without any concrete evidence. One of the theories claims that the Bulgarian Secret Service approached Ali in prison. The second theory claimed there was a connection between the Bulgarian Secret Service and the KGB. Just like Poland, Bulgaria was pro-Soviet as well. Claire Sterling, an American author, claims to have come across a statement from the Bulgarian Secret Service Operative who admitted to their role in the assassination attempt. She used all these materials in her book. The Bulgarian Secret Service’s motive still seems ambiguous.

As per Ali’s claims, Bulgarian citizens were arrested and put on trial. The trial soon fell apart because there was no conclusive proof to back Ali’s claims. Ali also changed his testimony 103 times, which made the court realize the man had been constantly lying ever since his arrest. The Bulgarian involvement angle sounds good only on paper, but it still remains a conspiracy theory.


What Is The Vatican’s Connection To The Assassination?

The narrators in the show also spoke about the Vatican Bank, which was under the scanner for money laundering, supporting the local mafia, and receiving money from them. The scam was very close to being unearthed because many claim the Pope was made aware of this financial embezzlement. The Pope probably did not want to be the center of attention if news of this scam ever broke. The narrators claimed that the Vatican Bank, under the garb of protection from the head of the Christian faith, carried out money laundering, which could eventually hurt the Pope’s image.

The theory states that the assassination attempt was only to scare the Pope into remaining silent. The Pope will be ready for a negotiation when he understands that his life is under threat. The narrators in Spy Ops Episode 4 divulge that there were spies inside the papal residence who were working against the Pope. Some bugs and microphones were found all around the residence, which proves that the Pope was being watched 24/7. This theory has been explored many times by journalists and conspiracy theorists, but again, nothing concrete has been found to prove that the Pope was being targeted from inside the Vatican itself.



Spy Ops Episode 4 also talks about a third bullet that hit the Pope’s car, which proves the existence of an accomplice with Ali who wanted to get rid of Pope John Paul II. There were pictures from the scene of the shooting that supported this theory. The presence of two people at the scene of the crime also throws light on the fact that there was indeed a group that wanted Pope John Paul II dead. The image of Ali Ağca’s accomplice from the Grey Wolves is circulated. Ali comes out and states that it was a policeman in civil clothes and not his friend.

Spy Ops Episode 4 ends with the court of Italy sentence Ali Ağca to 19 years in Italian prison for his crime, followed by 10 years in Turkey for killing the journalist. He came out as a changed person, which is why he was given a chance to speak in this documentary series.


While in prison in Italy, he was visited by Pope John Paul II to forgive Ali. The Pope stated that he prayed for Ali every day. Ali was moved by the Pope’s gesture, which made him change his life for the better. He visited Pope John Paul II’s grave in the Vatican after serving his time in prison. Ali remains an interesting public figure whose one act of crime gave birth to many conspiracy theories that are discussed even today.

Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan
Smriti Kannan is a cinema enthusiast, and a part time film blogger. An ex public relations executive, films has been a major part of her life since the day she watched The Godfather – Part 1. If you ask her, cinema is reality. Cinema is an escape route. Cinema is time traveling. Cinema is entertainment. Smriti enjoys reading about cinema, she loves to know about cinema and finding out trivia of films and television shows, and from time to time indulges in fan theories.


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