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TURK WHO SHOT POPE WANTS TO ATTEND FUNERAL

Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, has requested a leave from prison to attend the pontiff's funeral, saying he is mourning the loss of his "spiritual brother."

"I must be there," Agca said Monday through his attorney.

The lawyer, Mustafa Demirag, met with Agca in Istanbul's Kartal prison and said he would seek permission from a prosecutor for his client to travel to Rome. Demirag acknowledged that it was unlikely the maximum-security inmate would be allowed to attend.

The pope met with Agca in an Italian prison in 1983 and forgave the gunman for the shooting.

"Agca absolutely adores the pope; his death would be an enormous blow," said Agca's brother, Adnan, in an interview before Pope John Paul II died Saturday.

Agca, 48, was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in Italy for his failed assassination attempt. He is serving out the remaining 9 1/2 years of an earlier conviction for the 1979 murder of a prominent Turkish journalist.

Despite three investigations and two trials, mystery still shrouds the gunman's attempt to kill the pope. Agca, an escaped convict at the time of his attack on the pope, initially claimed he had been acting on his own. He then said Bulgarian and Czechoslovak agents working on behalf of the Soviet Union's KGB trained him as a killer in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital. The goal of the plot, he said, was to halt Pope John Paul's anti-communism crusade that was gaining ground in the Eastern Bloc, especially in the pope's homeland of Poland.

In 1986, at his second trial, Agca said that part of his original testimony had been lies. He also claimed to be Jesus. Italian prosecutors failed to prove charges the Bulgarian secret service had hired him on behalf of the Soviet Union. Agca now claims his attempted killing of the pope was part of a "divine plan."

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