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Man who shot Pope John Paul released from prison

Man who shot Pope John Paul released from prison

Mehmet Ali Agca's motives for shooting the pope in 1981 remain a mystery.

Ankara: The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II nearly 30 years ago was released from a Turkish prison on Monday, rekindling the mystery over whether he acted alone or had been hired by a Soviet-era secret service.

Mehmet Ali Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for the attack, before being pardoned on the pope's initiative in 2000, but was extradited to serve a sentence in his home country for other crimes including the 1979 murder of a newspaper editor.

On release from an Ankara jail, the 52-year-old issued a handwritten statement through his lawyers which reinforced doubts over his mental stability. "I proclaim the end of the world," he wrote. "All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century," he added in the statement, which was signed "The Christ Eternal Mehmet Ali Agca".

After his release, Agca was driven to a military hospital for psychological and physical tests to see if he was fit for service.

One of his lawyers, Yilmaz Abosoglu, told Reuters that he was found mentally unbalanced and would be exempted. The report must be approved by the defence ministry.

A military hospital report in 2006 that found him unsuitable for service was never approved by the defence ministry.

Agca's motives for shooting and wounding the pope at the Vatican in 1981 remain a mystery. Some people believe he was working for Soviet-era eastern European security services alarmed by the Polish pontiff's fierce opposition to communism.

In a statement issued last week, Agca said he would answer questions on the attack in the next few weeks, including whether the Soviet and Bulgarian governments were involved.

Agca opened fire on the pope as he was driven through St Peter's Square in an open car. The pontiff was wounded in the hand, arm and abdomen, but he visited Agca two years later in an Italian jail and forgave him.

Pope John Paul II died in 2005. Agca has said he wants to visit the pope's tomb in Rome, and meet his successor, Pope Benedict.

"He has served his time in jail so now he is a free man according to the law. Let's hope also his heart has changed," said Archbishop Ennio Apignanesi. "Maybe he will come to Rome.

The Pope went twice to forgive him. Now he could come and make a prayer." Agca left the prison compound in a four-car convoy, obscured behind tinted windows, although he was seen waving as he got into one of the vehicles inside the compound.

The media easily outnumbered about 25 supporters gathered outside the prison for Agca's release. A pipe and drum band played as Agca left the jail. Due to confusion over his prison terms, Agca was released in 2006, but was sent back to jail by the Supreme Court within a few days.

A military medical report at that time said he suffered from a severe anti-social personality disorder, and his lawyers were expecting a similar result. Also, he is well over the usual cut-off age for conscripts to military service.

"I am expecting him to be released after the military hospital check-up," lawyer Gokay Gultekin told Reuters. Agca is seeking interest from publishers in his story.
first published:January 18, 2010, 20:54 IST