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The gunman darted behind an ambulance (not the one to be used by John Paul) parked near the columns. When he reappeared he was held in a tight headlock by a tall, blond plainclothesman and surrounded by five or six others who hustled him through the throng. Had he not been seized by the plainclothesmen, he would surely have been trapped and held by the shocked and outraged crowd. Said one bystander who gave chase: "We would not have left even the buttons on his coat."
The captured man was taken first to the Commissariato Borgo, the Vatican police headquarters. But the Vatican has only religious courts; under the terms of the 1929 agreement with Italy that recognized Vatican City as an independent state, crimes committed on its 109-acre territory are prosecuted by the Italian government. The gunman was quickly bundled into an armored car and driven to central police headquarters in downtown Rome.
During twelve hours of almost uninterrupted interrogation conducted at a small table in a bare-walled chamber, the gunman's identity emerged. He was Mehmet Ali Agca, a 23-year-old Turk, a convicted murderer and a jailbreaker. In the words of Alfredo Lazzarini, head of the Rome police antiterrorist squad, Agca was also "a terrorist with a capital T." He was considered so dangerous that Turkish police had been given orders to shoot him on sight.
Agca had shot and killed the editor of a liberal newspaper in early 1979 in Istanbul. Sentenced to death, he escaped from a maximum-security prison, leaving behind a note threatening to kill John Paul II ("the masked leader of the Crusades"*), who was about to visit Turkey. Lazzarini described him as "cold, lucid" under interrogation, but his motives were a muddle: he called himself a "pro-Palestinian Communist comrade," but he had belonged to a neofascist organization in Turkey nicknamed the "Gray Wolves." Police found a note in Turkish in his pocket saying: "I am killing the Pope as a protest against the imperialism of the Soviet Union and the United States and against the genocide that is being carried out in El Salvador and Afghanistan." The only thing that seemed completely clear about his mind was the intensity of the hate it harbored.
None of that was known to the stunned crowd in St. Peter's Square. Those near the scene of the shooting traded horrified speculation: the gunman was an Arab, a South American, an agent of the Soviet KGB. Some people on the far side of the square did not even realize what had happened. But then, as the Pope's ambulance was speeding away, loudspeakers that were to have amplified his talk announced over and over, in Italian, French, English and a variety of other languages (including Chinese): "The Holy Father has been wounded. We will now offer prayers for him, for his speedy recovery." People dropped to their knees, many weeping. A group of 450 Poles, some wearing the buttons of Solidarity, the independent labor union, sang hymns in theirand John Paul'snative language.
An hour after the shooting, Monsignor Justin Rigali, who translates John Paul's words into English at papal audiences, stepped to