The man behind one of the most notorious assassination attempts of the 20th century has been let out of jail. Mehmet Ali Agca, who tried to kill Pope John-Paul II, was released from prison in Istanbul But after 25 years behind bars, his liberty could be short-lived. Turkey’s justice minister Cemil Cicek said he was appealing against the release and Agca could be imprisoned again. Well-wishers were waiting as the 48-year-old was whisked away to an army base to register for military service.
It is mandatory for Turkish men but Agca has never done it. The sentence he has been serving in Turkey was unconnected to the Pope’s shooting. Agca was in jail for crimes committed before he gained global notoriety, including the murder of a newspaper editor in the 1970s. Left-wing activists demonstrated at his early release, made possible after a court ruled his term for these offences had reached an end.
Agca had connections to Turkish far-right paramilitaries as well as ties to its criminal underworld. His motives in shooting the Pope in St Peter’s Square in Rome in 1981 remain a mystery. Some believe he was a hitman for Soviet-era East European security services, alarmed by the Polish-born Pontiff’s fierce opposition to communism. But this has never been proved.
The late Pope, who was seriously wounded in the attack, publicly forgave Agca and after 19 years in jail in Italy the would-be-assassin was pardoned in 2000 at John Paul’s behest. The gunman was then extradited to his homeland to serve the separate sentence.