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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 January 2006, 14:47 GMT
Man who shot Pope freed from jail
Mehmet Ali Agca holds a copy of Time magazine which features him and Pope John Paul II on the cover after he is released from prison

The Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II almost 25 years ago has been released from prison.

Mehmet Ali Agca served nearly 20 years in Italian jails for the attempted murder. In Turkey, he was jailed for bank robbery and another murder.

Agca, 48, shot the Pope in St Peter's Square in 1981, but has never explained why. The pontiff later visited him in jail and publicly forgave him.

The Turkish government is appealing against the release.

Hours after Agca walked free, Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said he wanted to make sure there had not been any legal errors.

Agca reported to the army after he was freed, as he never did his mandatory military service.

It is not clear if he will actually serve, get a medical exemption, or pay a fine.

His brother Adnan told the Associated Press (AP) news agency that Agca was looking forward to having a meal of beans and rice while overlooking the Bosphorus strait, which runs through Istanbul.

Anger at home

Agca fired at Pope John Paul II on 13 May 1981, hitting him four times.

The gunman was pardoned by the Italian authorities in 2000 and extradited to Turkey, where he was jailed for the 1979 murder of a left-wing Turkish journalist and two bank robberies.

Agca fired at Pope John Paul as he waved to crowds in Rome

Last week, a Turkish court ruled Agca had completed his term for those offences.

Agca's release has been divisive in Turkey.

The daughter of the journalist he killed published a front-page letter in the national newspaper Milliyet calling him "not just the murderer of my father... I see him as our national assassin".

Nationalist supporters cheered Agca's release, throwing flowers at the car that took him away from the prison.

"Mehmet Ali Agca is a role model for everyone who loves the Turkish nation," Seyfi Yilmaz told AP outside the prison.

Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, told AP his client wanted to put the assassination attempt behind him and "extend the hand of peace and friendship to everyone".

Soviet 'involvement'

Agca was a 23-year-old known criminal with links to Turkish far-right paramilitaries at the time of the attack in Rome.

The Turkish government should guarantee Agca's security because he knows so many secrets and he may be killed
Ferdinando Imposimato
Former Italian magistrate

There were claims that the Soviet KGB and its Bulgarian counterpart were behind the assassination attempt, but prosecutors at a trial in 1986 failed to prove a link to the Bulgarian secret service.

On a 2002 visit to Sofia, John Paul II said he had never believed in a Bulgarian link to the shooting.

One of Italy's most respected magistrates in the 1980s, who probed the attack at the time, has warn that Agca's life is at risk because of the many secrets he knows.

Pope John Paul II meets Mehmet Ali Agca in an Italian prison in 1983

Ferdinando Imposimato is convinced of Soviet bloc involvement. The Pope at the time was preaching a message that challenged Soviet communism's collectivist ideology.

"I think the Turkish government should guarantee Agca's security because he knows so many secrets and he may be killed," he said in an interview with Reuters TV on Wednesday.

Agca fired several times at the late Pope John Paul II as he waved to crowds from an open car.

The critically wounded pontiff underwent emergency surgery for serious wounds to the abdomen and hand. According to his own account, he only just survived.

He met his attacker two years later in an Italian prison, when he publicly forgave him.

Pope John Paul II died in April 2005 at the age of 84.

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