News24

Pope's failed assassin freed

2010-01-18 14:23

Ankara - The Turk who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981, Mehmet Ali Agca, was released from prison on Monday after almost three decades behind bars, his lawyer said.

"The release procedure has been completed," Yilmaz Abosoglu told an army of reporters outside a high-security prison near Ankara.

Wearing a blue sweater, Agca was seen driving away in a car, escorted by several other vehicles.

The lawyer explained that the 52-year-old would be immediately taken to an army recruitment office to sort out procedures concerning his status as a draft dodger.

Agca at age 23 was a militant of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves, on the run from Turkish justice facing murder charges, when he resurfaced in the Vatican's Saint Peter's Square on May 13 1981, and opened fire on the pope as he drove to an audience in an open vehicle.

John Paul II was seriously wounded in the abdomen and Agca spent the next 19 years in Italian prisons.

The motive behind the attack remains a mystery.

'A divine plan'

Agca has claimed it was part of a divine plan and has given often contradictory statements, frequently changing his story and forcing investigators to open dozens of inquiries.

Charges that the Soviet Union and then-communist Bulgaria were behind the assassination attempt were never proved.

In 2000, Italy pardoned Agca and extradited him to Turkey, where he was convicted for the murder of prominent journalist Abdi Ipekci, two armed robberies and escaping from prison, crimes all dating back to the 1970s.

The Turkish authorities had released Agca in January 2006 amid a legal mix-up, but re-arrested him after eight days when a court ruled that reductions to his jail term under amnesty laws and penal code amendments had been miscalculated.

On Sunday, his lawyer said military authorities considered Agca a draft dodger and required him to undergo a check-up immediately after his release because an earlier medical report declaring him unfit had not been approved.

Agca was declared unfit for military service, obligatory for Turkish men, because of "advanced anti-social personality disorder" when he underwent a check-up at a military hospital during his short-lived release in 2006.