Turkey to Free Man Who Shot John Paul

From Associated Press

The man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 will be released from prison this week after a court decided he had completed his sentence for the attack on the pontiff and other crimes.

The ruling on Mehmet Ali Agca, who had served almost 20 years in Italy before being extradited to Turkey in 2000, took the Vatican by surprise.

Agca shot the pope in the abdomen in St. Peter's Square in Rome on May 13, 1981. His motive remains unclear.

"He was eligible to be released on parole because he had no disciplinary problems," Mustafa Demirbag, Agca's lawyer, said by telephone. He was to be freed Thursday.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the church would defer to the judgment of the Turkish tribunal.

"The Holy See has learned only from news agencies of the news of the possible freedom of Ali Agca," he said in a brief statement. "The Holy See, before a problem of a judicial nature, submits to the decisions of the tribunals involved in this matter."

John Paul personally pardoned Agca 2 1/2 years after the attack, sitting face to face and almost touching knees with his assailant in a 21-minute private meeting in a Rome prison cell.

Agca, 47, had been serving a 10-year sentence for murdering the Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979. He was separately sentenced to seven years and four months for two robberies in Turkey the same year.

An Istanbul court ruled in 2004 that Agca should only serve the longest sentence -- his conviction for killing Ipekci.

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