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Turk who shot Pope John Paul II is released from prison

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) — After 25 years behind bars for trying to assassinate Pope John Paul II and fatally gunning down a journalist, Mehmet Ali Agca was released from prison — and promptly gave his supporters and his enemies the slip.

Within hours of tasting freedom Thursday for the first time since wounding John Paul in 1981, Agca disappeared out the back door of a military hospital.

He left behind hordes of journalists, along with questions about whether he will be forced to complete the mandatory military service he dodged as a young man.

Scores of ultranationalist right-wing supporters cheered his release and tossed flowers at the sedan that whisked him through the gates of a high-security prison.

But many Turks expressed dismay that Agca, 48, served just five years for the slaying of newspaper columnist Abdi Ipekci in 1979, during a time of street violence between rightists and leftists.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek ordered a review to see whether any errors were committed in releasing him. He said Agca would remain free until an appeals court reviewed the case.

“If there is an error, that would damage Turkey’s image” as the nation pushes to join the European Union, said Ilter Turan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

“Day of shame,” headlined the daily Milliyet, Ipekci’s newspaper.

Cicek said Agca’s release was not “a guaranteed right,” noting there have been several cases in which convicts freed by mistake were returned to prison. He said Agca benefited from amnesties, passed by previous governments, which have freed tens of thousands of criminals over the past decades.

Agca, white-haired and wearing a bright blue sweater and jeans, was freed five years after he was pardoned by Italy and extradited to Turkey. He had served 20 years in Italy, where John Paul forgave him in a visit to his prison cell in 1983.

Agca shot John Paul as the pope rode in an open car in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981, and was captured immediately. John Paul was hit in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, but recovered because Agca’s bullets missed vital organs.

Cicek said a military court had ordered Agca’s execution in 1980 for murdering Ipekci but the sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2002, after Turkey abolished the death penalty. The life sentence was translated into 36 years.

Mustafa Demirbag, Agca’s lawyer, said the local court that ordered the release deducted his time served in Italy and Turkey, where he previously was jailed for six months before escaping in 1979.

Ipekci’s family objected to the decision to free Agca, but another local court in Istanbul ruled this week that his release was lawful, Cicek said.

“I personally think the review of the case by the appeals court would be beneficial,” Cicek said.

After his release, Agca — who initially was handcuffed — reported to a military recruitment center. As he left, uncuffed, he handed a journalist a photocopy of a Time magazine cover showing him with the pope and the headline: “Why forgive?”

Agca went for a routine checkup at a military hospital, leaving through a back door only used by high military commanders. His whereabouts were not immediately known.

The semiofficial Anatolia news agency said the hospital would issue a report on whether the 48-year-old Agca, a draft evader in his youth, was fit for mandatory military service.

Asked about the mental health of Agca, who has been known for frequent outbursts and claims that he was the Messiah, his brother, Adnan, said: “He is very good.” The brother denied reports that Agca had sought money for media interviews.

“We don’t need any money. Love is more important than money. We don’t want money,” he said.

Agca has never undergone a thorough psychological evaluation, although he met briefly with a psychiatrist who declared him fit to stand trial for shooting the pope.

Dozens of flag-waving nationalists rejoiced over his release.

“He is a family friend. We love him,” Mustafa Akmercan, one of two Turks who hijacked a jetliner in 1997 to demand Agca’s release, told The Associated Press outside the prison. “We’re very happy.”

But the return of Agca and his ultranationalist friends to the headlines of newspapers rekindled old enmities.

Outside the military hospital, about 250 left-wing activists denounced the release. “Agca will pay!” they shouted, holding pictures of comrades killed by the Gray Wolves, an ultranationalist militant group with whom Agca allegedly was affiliated.

The justice minister urged the nation to remember and take lessons from the 1970s street clashes that killed some 5,000 people.

“Terror and anarchy have cost the lives of many people,” Cicek said. “We should take the necessary lessons from that chaos.”

Discussion

One comment for “Turk who shot Pope John Paul II is released from prison”

  1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/would-be-papal-assassin-mehmet-ali-agca-expelled-from-italy/2014/12/29/de7a5434-8f8f-11e4-a66f-0ca5037a597d_story.html

    Would-be papal assassin Mehmet Ali Agca expelled from Italy
    By Josephine Mckenna | Religion News Service December 29 at 2:21 PM

    Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish man who tried to assassinate St. John Paul II in 1981, was expelled from Italy on Monday (Dec. 29) after paying a visit to the tomb of the Polish pontiff.

    An Italian judge on Monday approved the expulsion of the former terrorist; he was scheduled to be sent back to Istanbul on a Turkish Airlines flight from Rome Monday night, police sources told the Italian news agency, ANSA.

    Agca’s expulsion came two days after he placed flowers on the late pope’s tomb in St. Peter’s Basilica on Saturday.

    Agca, 56, served 19 years for his crime in Italy, where John Paul famously visited him in prison. He was then deported to his native Turkey, where he served further time for the murder of left-wing journalist Abdi Ipekci, who was killed in 1979.

    “I would like to go to the tomb of John Paul II, who visited me in prison,” Agca told ANSA earlier this month. “I couldn’t go to his funeral so I would like to pay my respects to a spiritual brother.”

    John Paul was left seriously injured by the attack as he toured the crowds in St. Peter’s Square when one bullet passed through his abdomen and another narrowly missed his heart. Vatican officials have rejected requests from Agca for a face-to-face meeting with Pope Francis.

    Italian media on Monday questioned how Agca was allowed to land in Austria and enter Italy since he is banned from visiting either country until 2016.

    Agca also claimed that Emanuela Orlandi, an Italian teenager who went missing in mysterious circumstances in 1983, was still alive.

    “She is absolutely alive, probably in some convent,” he said. “The Vatican knows everything and denies everything . it would be difficult for Emanuela to re-emerge on her own and for the Vatican to restore her to her family.”

    Agca’s expulsion comes after lawyers for Orlandi’s family filed an unsuccessful motion to keep him in Italy so he could be formally interrogated about her disappearance. The public prosecutor’s office said Agca is “not credible” and not worth questioning.

    Posted by Vanfield | December 29, 2014, 1:28 pm

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