Pope gunman is ready for heroism: to capture Bin Laden

The Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul II offered in 2000 to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and planned to kill the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, a Turkish newspaper reported Tuesday, printing what it said were letters the gunman wrote. The Hurriyet newspaper printed handwritten letters purportedly penned by Mehmet Ali Agca. In one letter, dated Sept. 1, 2000, and addressed to the head of the Turkish intelligence agency, Agca asked to be released from prison so he could travel to Afghanistan, infiltrate Bin Laden's terror network and capture him "dead or alive." "I would lovingly carry out this historic mission even if it cost me my life," Agca wrote. "If I become a national hero in America, this would be good for the Turkish people and the Turkish state."

Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, said he could not confirm the authenticity of the letter. "I am puzzled," Demirbag told The Associated Press. "If there is such a letter, I would be interested to know who gave it to the newspaper and why." The newspaper provided no details about how it obtained the letter.

There have been questions about the mental health of Agca, who has been known for frequent outbursts and claims that he is the Messiah or Jesus Christ. Before the shooting, Agca was affiliated with the Gray Wolves, a Turkish right-wing militant group. A scandal in 1996 revealed that the state used members of the Gray Wolves to kill insurgents and many ultranationalists regard them as national heroes. If the letter turns out to have been authentic, Agca, who is said to be fond of publicity, may have been offering his services in a bid to gain favors with the Turkish state and hopes of becoming an international hero. Agca offered to donate a US$5 million (Ђ4.1 million) bounty he said was offered for Bin Laden's capture to survivors of a pair of devastating 1999 earthquakes in Turkey. "Please immediately go to Washington, meet with the heads of the CIA and the NSA and let's quickly finish this job," Agca wrote.

Agca also claimed in the same letter that he had planned two attempts on the life of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, whom he called an enemy of Turkey, between 1979 and 1980. He did not elaborate. Many believe that Armenian terrorists who killed Turkish diplomats in the 1970s and 1980s trained in the Syrian-controlled Bekaa Valley.

Turkey's relations with Syria were troubled for many years over accusations that Syria harbored autonomy-seeking Turkish Kurdish rebels.

In another letter published Tuesday, Agca claimed that Emanuela Orlandi, the 15-year-old daughter of a Vatican messenger, and another girl, Mirella Gregory, were kidnapped in 1983 in return for his release from prison. He claimed that the girls were whisked away to a royal palace in Liechtenstein. Agca was released from an Istanbul prison last week after serving 25 years in Italy and Turkey for the 1981 attempt on the pope's life and the murder of a prominent Turkish journalist.

His freedom may be short-lived; he still faces the threat of returning to prison amid questions over whether he served enough time for killing journalist Abdi Ipekci. Meanwhile, a military hospital that pronounced Agca unfit for military service determined that the 48-year-old had an "anti-social" personality making him incapable of obeying military orders, Hurriyet reported. Demirbag said he could not confirm the report, saying the reasons for the decision were not made public.

Agca's arrival Monday at the military hospital in Istanbul was his first appearance in public since he vanished hours after his release last Thursday. He later slipped away again from the hospital in a speeding car. Demirbag would not disclose his whereabouts but said he was still in Turkey and "leading an ordinary life", reports the AP. N.U.