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Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul ll leaves jail after 25 years

Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul ll leaves jail after 25 years

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot and wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, was released from a Turkish jail yesterday after serving more than a quarter of a century behind bars.

"Agca is now a free man. After 26 years Agca is now getting wet in the rain," his lawyer Mustafa Demirbag told Reuters.

Turkish Justice Minister Cemil Cicek said he would appeal Agca's release and the 48-year-old former right-wing gangster could be jailed again for the 1979 murder of liberal newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci and on other charges dating from the 1970s.

"As the justice minister, I will ask the appeals court to examine the release of Agca," Cicek told a news conference in Istanbul.

Agca's motives in shooting the Pope in Rome's St. Peter's Square remain a mystery, but some believe he was a hitman for Soviet-era East European security services alarmed by the Polish-born Pontiff's fierce opposition to communism.

An Italian ex-magistrate who investigated the 1981 shooting says Agca could now be in danger because he knows too many secrets.

Casually dressed and looking solemn, Agca was whisked from his Istanbul jail to a military base to register for military service.

As he emerged, he said nothing, but handed reporters a copy of a Time magazine cover with a picture of himself meeting Pope John Paul. "Why Forgive?" the headline said.

The army insists he must do his military service, obligatory for all Turkish men, but it was not immediately clear whether or when this would take place. He left prison under heavy police guard, reflecting fears he might try to evade the draft as he did in the 1970s.

Agca, now 48, served 19 years in an Italian prison for the assassination attempt before being pardoned at the Pope's behest in 2000. He was then extradited to Turkey to serve a separate sentence in an Istanbul jail for robbery and murder.

Former Italian magistrate Ferdinando Imposimato told Reuters in an interview in Rome this week that Agca was now in danger.

"I think the Turkish government should guarantee Agca's security because he knows so many secrets and he may be killed," he said. "The best thing would be to keep him in jail."

Imposimato said he was convinced the former Soviet KGB was behind one of the most notorious assassination attempts of the 20th century and secret services were hiding the truth.