A Turkish court has approved the release of the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, saying that he has completed his prison term.
Mehmet Ali Agca, 47, a Turkish citizen, was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in prison in Italy for shooting and wounding the Pope in St Peter’s Square in Rome.
His motives for the attack remain unclear. Agca was due to be released on Thursday on parole, according to Mustafa Demirbag, his lawyer. The draft-dodger was expected to be enlisted for compulsory military service immediately.
Upon his return to Turkey, Agca was sent to serve a ten-year prison term for murdering Abdi Ipekci, a Turkish journalist, in 1979.
He was separately sentenced to seven years and four months for two robberies in Turkey in the same year.
An Istanbul court ruled in 2004 that Agca should serve only the longer sentence. The ten-year term changed twice because of new laws.
Agca served less than six months in a Turkish prison in 1979 for killing Mr Ipekci,before he escaped, resurfacing in 1981 in Rome.
Taking into account this time served, the prison asked for permission to release Agca. The court ruled that he could now be freed this week.
Agca reportedly identified with the Grey Wolves, a far-right militant group that fought street battles against leftists in the 1970s. He first confessed to killing Mr Ipekci, one of the country’s most prominent left-wing newspaper columnists, but later retracted his statements.
Pope John Paul II was seriously wounded in the abdomen in the attack. He later met Agca in prison and forgave him. The suspected involvement of then-communist Bulgaria and Soviet intelligence was never proved.
When the Pope died in April, Agca said he was mourning his “spiritual brother” in his cell and asked the Turkish authorities to let him attend the funeral. His request was rejected.