The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 left prison a free man Thursday after serving more than 25 years behind bars in Italy and Turkey for the plot against the pontiff and the slaying of a Turkish journalist.
To the cheers of nationalist supporters, some of whom threw flowers in celebration, Mehmet Ali Agca - whose attempt to assassinate the pope gained notoriety for himself and shame for his homeland - was whisked into a white sedan and through the gates of the high-security Kartal Prison, as dozens of police officers stood guard.
Ordinary citizens reacted with disgust at the release of the man who became their most infamous countryman.
"A murderer like him who has stained Turkey's image should not be released," Deniz Ergin, a 23-year-old university student in Istanbul, said Wednesday.
Agca shot the pope as he rode in an open car in St. Peter's Square in Rome on May 13, 1981, and was captured immediately. The pontiff, hit in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, recovered because Agca's bullets missed vital organs.
In Vatican City, the family of a then-15-year-old girl who disappeared two years after Agca's assassination attempt is hoping Agca's release may shed some light on her whereabouts.
Shortly after the June 1983 apparent abduction of Emanuela Orlandi, the daugher of a Vatican messenger, a message was received – purportedly from the kidnappers – who demanded that Agca be freed.
That never happened, and to this day, no one knows what happened to Orlandi.
Her family is now asking that the case be re-opened on the grounds that "new elements" have emerged warranting investigation.
Many Turks were surprised and outraged at last week's court decision releasing the gunman on parole after serving 4 1/2 years in prison for killing a left-wing columnist, Abdi Ipekci, in 1979.
"Agca is not just the murderer of my father ... I see him as our national assassin," Ipekci's daughter, Nukhet, said in a letter published on the front page of his newspaper, Milliyet. "He is a person who has caused the words 'Turkish' and 'murder' to come together."
His lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that Agca benefited from amnesties and recent amendments to the penal code which led the court to deduct the 20 years he served in Italy from his 36-year prison term - the maximum sentence for any crime in Turkey.
Demirbag said he would take Agca, who turned 48 on Monday, to a military recruitment center and to a military hospital, a routine procedure, following his release.
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