Pope's would-be killer to be freed

2009-12-21 16:53

Ankara - Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to kill pope John Paul II, is to be freed next month, after nearly three decades behind bars, his lawyer said on Monday.

"The prison prosecutor has confirmed to us that Agca will be released on January 18," lawyer Haci Ali Ozhan told AFP.

Imprisoned in a high-security jail near Ankara, the 51-year-old Agca is awaiting his freedom "in good health and spirits", Ozhan said.

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

Agca has been incarcerated in Turkey since 2000 when Italy pardoned him for the 1981 assassination attempt on John Paul II and extradited him.

He was on the run from Turkish justice facing murder charges when he resurfaced at St Peter's Square in Rome, on May 13 1981, when he shot and seriously wounded the pontiff.

The motives for the attack remain a mystery. The alleged involvement of the Soviet Union and then-communist Bulgaria were never proven.

Agca has claimed the attack was part of a divine plan, giving contradictory statements and frequently changing his story.

Many see him as deranged - he claims to be a "second Messiah" - while others believe he is a sly operator playing the fool.

A former member of the notorious far-right Grey Wolves, Agca was also convicted in Turkey for the murder of a prominent journalist, two armed robberies and escaping from prison, all dating back to the 1970s.