Page last updated at 10:49 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Man who shot Pope John Paul II freed from Turkish jail

Mehmet Ali Agca leaving prison 18 Jan 2010
Mehmet Ali Agca has left prison after nearly 30 years behind bars.

The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II in 1981 has been released from prison in Turkey.

Mehmet Ali Agca served 19 years in an Italian prison for shooting John Paul, and another 10 years in Turkey for the earlier murder of a newspaper editor.

Agca's motives for attempting to kill the Pope remain a mystery, although when he was arrested he said he was acting alone.

In 1983 John Paul announced he had forgiven Agca after meeting him.

There have been long-standing questions about the mental health of Agca, based on his frequent outbursts and statements that he was a new messiah.

In a statement issued on his release, he said: "I proclaim the end of the world. All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century... I am the Christ eternal."

Turkish media say Agca is now to be taken to a military facility and then to a hospital to be assessed for compulsory military service.

Contradictory statements

Agca, 52, had been a member of a Turkish ultra-nationalist group who fled Turkey after killing a newspaper editor.

He opened fire on Pope John Paul as he was being driven through St Peter's Square in Rome in an open vehicle on 13 May, 1981.

The Pope was seriously injured in the attack and Agca spent the next 19 years in prison in Italy.

Escaped from Turkish prison while awaiting trial for murder of newspaper editor in 1979
In July 1981, sentenced to life imprisonment in Italy for attempting to kill Pope John Paul
Pardoned at Pope's request in June 2000, extradited to Turkey
Convicted for murder, robberies and prison escape, served time in Turkish jail
Released on parole in January 2006
Ruled "unfit for military service" because of "advanced anti-social personality disorder"
Returned to jail after eight days after court ruled jail term miscalculated

He maintained at first that he was acting alone, but over the years frequently changed his story and gave often contradictory statements.

He had once claimed, for example, that he was under the orders of the Bulgarian secret service.

A trial lasting 22 months was held in Rome during the 1980s about the alleged Bulgarian connection.

The accused were all acquitted for lack of proof.

One of 'great mysteries'

The BBC's Jonathan Head in Istanbul says that Agca will now have the chance to clear up one of the great mysteries of the last century - what was it that drove him to attempt the assassination of the most influential pope of modern times?

Agca's lawyers say he has been offered multi-million-dollar deals to tell his story.

Our correspondent says that after all the bizarre statements he has issued from jail, that story - if he tells it - is unlikely to be convincing.

He adds that few people believe he could have acted alone, but that whatever he says now, the real story behind the shooting of the Pope will in all likelihood never be known.

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