British spies warned Pope John Paul II that he was in danger of being murdered by an assassin using a poison-tipped umbrella – two years before he was attacked by a gunman, it is claimed.
The Pontiff survived being shot four times in St Peter’s Square by Mehmet Ali Agca in May 1981.
The Turk was caught and later confessed to the crime, initially claiming Bulgaria’s Soviet secret service, guided by the KGB, had orchestrated the plot.
Pope John Paul II (pictured) was the subject of a vicious attack in St Peter’s Square in May 1981, with the attacker using a poisoned-tipped umbrella
The Pope (pictured) survived the attack despite being hit four times in the incident – but it is believed UK spies warned him of an attack on his life in 1979
The attack was carried out by gunman Mehmet Ali Agca (pictured), with the Turk caught and later confessing to the crime
A Polish historian now alleges British security services twice warned the Pope he was at risk of assassination before the attempt on his life at the Vatican.
The extraordinary claim, made in an interview with The Mail on Sunday, is based on a 2007 interview with the Pope’s then foreign secretary, Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, who died last year.
He told how UK spies initially feared an attack by an assassin with a poisoned-tip umbrella, the method used to kill Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov on Waterloo Bridge in 1978.
Their second warning was given shortly before the Vatican attack.
‘The cardinal told me British intelligence and others warned the Vatican of an imminent assassination attempt on the Pope a few weeks before the attack on him,’ said Marek Lasota.
‘He told me that British intelligence had also warned the Vatican that on the Pope’s visit to Ireland in 1979 his life was in danger.
‘The warning contained information about possible methods – poisoned food or sharp objects, i.e. a kind of Bulgarian umbrella, the way the communist services murdered Georgi Markov in London.’
Mr Lasota added: ‘Cardinal Silvestrini confirmed to me that the Vatican services were aware of the increased actions of the Soviet camp’s [intelligence] services and took steps to neutralise their surveillance.’
Anti-communist Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, was regarded as a threat by Soviet bloc states.
In 1990, it was revealed that KGB defector Victor Ivanovich Sheymov had told the CIA a decade earlier how the Russians plotted to kill the Pontiff.
Agca, a member of Turkey’s nationalist Grey Wolves, claimed to have several accomplices, including Zilo Vassilev, Bulgaria’s military attache in Rome.
In the 1979 visit to Ireland, UK spies warned that an attack similar to the assassination of Georgi Markov (pictured) in London could be made on the Pope
Agca (pictured second right) was a member of Turkey’s nationalist Grey Wolves and claimed to have several accomplices
Bulgaria has repeatedly denied any role in the attack.
Dr Wladyslaw Bulhak, of Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance archives, said: ‘What we know from the files is that the Soviets, led by Moscow, saw Pope John Paul II as a significant danger.
‘He was spreading a message of anti-Communism and democratisation in Latin America when Russia was trying to make maximum problems for America.
‘Our scholars have concluded this plot was most likely the work of the Bulgarians via Moscow.’
Both the Vatican and Britain’s security services failed to respond to requests for comment.