The Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 was released from prison today after more than 29 years behind bars. Mehmet Ali Agca waved to journalists as he left the prison in a sedan car in a convoy of several vehicles. He was heading to a military hospital to be assessed for compulsory military service. A 2006 military hospital report said he is not fit for military service because of a "severe anti-social personality disorder".
There have been long-standing questions about the 52-year-old Agca's mental health based on his frequent outbursts and claims that he was the Messiah. In a statement today, distributed by his lawyer outside the prison in Sincan on the outskirts of Ankara, the Turkish capital, he raved again: "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." Agca shot John Paul on May 13, 1981, as the pope rode in an open car in St Peter's Square. The pontiff was hit in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, but the bullets missed vital organs.
John Paul met with Agca in Italy's Rebibbia prison in 1983 and forgave him for the shooting. The motive for the attack remains unclear but has not been linked to Islamic issues. When Agca was arrested minutes after the attack, he declared he had acted alone. Later, he suggested Bulgaria and the Soviet Union's KGB were behind the attack, but then backed off that line. His contradictory statements have frustrated prosecutors over the decades. Agca has said that he will answer questions about the attack after he is released from prison. His lawyer said he would not speak today but would rest in Ankara.
Agca is expected to travel to Istanbul later, private NTV television said. "We are not running away from the media, he may speak in a few days," his lawyer Gokay Gultekin said. Agca was released after completing his sentence for killing journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979. He had received a life sentence, which amounts to 36 years under Turkish law, for murdering Mr Ipekci, but he escaped from a Turkish prison less than six months into the sentence and went on to shoot the pope in Rome two years later.
Agca reportedly sympathised with the Gray Wolves, a far right-wing militant group that fought street battles against leftists in the 1970s. He initially confessed to killing Mr Ipekci, one of the country's most prominent left-wing newspaper columnists, but later retracted his statements. After his extradition on June 14, 2000, Agca was separately sentenced to seven years and four months for two robberies in Turkey in 1979. But authorities deducted his prison sentence in Italy and several amnesties and amendment of the penal code reduced his term further.
The complex situation complicated the calculation of his remaining term and even led to his wrongful release from prison in 2006. He was reimprisoned eight days later. Agca's military situation was expected to be clarified as soon as late today. Turkish military generally accepts conscripts until the age of 41. Agca has said he is beginning to consider book, film and television documentary offers.