TODAY.AZ / Politics

Man who shot Pope back in prison

21 January 2006 [22:37] - TODAY.AZ
The man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 was back in an Istanbul prison Saturday, and his brother demonstrated outside to accuse judicial authorities of bowing to government pressure.

Mehmet Ali Agca returned Friday to Kartal prison, the same lockup he was released from eight days ago, after a court ruled he had more time to serve on his sentence for killing a prominent Turkish journalist in 1979 and other crimes. His lawyer vowed Saturday to have him released again, Suzan Frazer, Associated Press Writer, reports from Ankara.

An appeals court on Friday overturned a lower court's ruling that set Agca free on Jan. 12. He had served 19 years in an Italian prison for shooting the pope and then 5 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence in Turkey for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci.

Agca may have to serve additional sentences, which have yet to be determined, for his conviction in 2000 for a factory robbery and vehicle theft.

Many Turks were outraged at the lower court's decision to release Agca by counting the prison time he had served in Italy for shooting the pope toward his 10-year sentence for killing Ipekci.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek asked for a review, and the judges ruled unanimously Friday that Agca should return to prison.

Cicek had argued that Agca should serve a full 10-year sentence for killing Ipekci. He suggested the sentence should be counted from June 14, 2000, when Agca was extradited to Turkey from Italy. Agca served five months of his sentence in Turkey in 1979 before escaping from a military prison.

The gunman's brother, Adnan Agca, and a score of nationalist supporters held banners outside the prison denouncing the government, which ordered a review of Agca's case, and the media, which had decried the decision to free him.

"The judges and prosecutors are under threat and pressure," Adnan Agca told reporters.

Mehmet Ali Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, promised to press ahead with efforts to free him and said he would petition prosecutors to act against the justice minister and other officials he accused of "exerting pressure on the courts."

"Agca must be released immediately," Demirbag told reporters. "Our legal efforts and battle will continue."

Legal experts have said however, that the appeals court's decision is final and cannot be overturned.

Mehmet Ali Agca, handcuffed and wearing a blue sweater, was taken to police headquarters in Istanbul on Friday before returning to prison. With scores of cameras turned on him, he shouted in English, Turkish and Italian: "I declare myself Messiah! I am not the son of God, I am Messiah!"

Demirbag said Saturday his client was "writing a new Bible" but did not elaborate.

There have been long-standing questions about Mehmet Ali Agca's mental health. He fired on John Paul as the pontiff rode in an open car in St. Peter's Square.

John Paul was wounded in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, but recovered because the bullets had missed vital organs. The pope visited his attacker and forgave him in his prison cell in Rome in 1983.

Mehmet Ali Agca was originally sentenced to death for Ipekci's murder, but the sentence was reduced to 10 years in 1991.

In 2000, he was convicted of a soda factory robbery and stealing a vehicle in 1979 and was sentenced him to 36 years in prison, the equivalent of a life term in Turkey. Two subsequent rulings reduced that sentence, but the appeals court on Friday ruled that one of the deductions was invalid.

A Turkish prosecutor will now decide how many years he has to serve for those other crimes. The maximum penalty for the other charges is four years in prison.

When he was released on Jan. 12, Mehmet Ali Agca spent his few days as a free man in a friend's apartment on the Asian side of Istanbul.

Adnan Agca said he spent three days with his brother, who "ate from a porcelain dish for the first time, felt the rain for the first time, freely read newspapers and watched television and took showers without feeling any pressure."

Most commentaries in newspapers welcomed Mehmet Ali Agca's return to prison.

"Back where he belongs," read a headline in Milliyet. "The murderer couldn't escape," said Radikal newspaper.

Before shooting the pope, Mehmet Ali Agca was affiliated with the Gray Wolves, a Turkish right-wing militant group. A scandal in 1996 revealed that the state used members of the Gray Wolves to kill insurgents, and many ultranationalists regard them as national heroes.


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