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Man Who Shot Pope To Be Set Free

A court has approved the release from prison of the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, saying he completed his sentence for crimes he committed in Turkey, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency reported Sunday.

Mehmet Ali Agca was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in Italy for shooting and wounding the pope in St. Peter's Square in Rome. His motive for the attack remains unclear.

Pope John Paul II was hit with three bullets: one in his stomach, another in his right arm and a third in his left hand. The attempt on the Pope's life occurred as he rode across Saint Peter's Square in an open car to hold a general audience with a crowd of 20,000 people. The Pope met with Agca and publicly forgave him 2 years later in 1983.

Agca, 47, was expected to be released as early as Monday. Anatolia said he was expected to be immediately enlisted by the military for obligatory service because he had dodged the draft, Anatolia said. Turkish paramilitary police were expected to take Agca first to a local military station and then to a military hospital in Istanbul for medical check, a routine procedure.

His lawyer and family said they were not aware of the court decision.

"I'm surprised," his lawyer, Dogan Yildirim, told The Associated Press by telephone. "If its true, justice will finally be served. He has been in prison for so long."

Agca's sister, Fatma Agca, also was surprised.

"We did not hear it," Fatma Agca told the AP from family home in the southeastern city of Malatya. She refused to comment.

Upon his return to Turkey from Italy, Agca immediately was sent to prison to serve a 10-year sentence for murdering 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. That 10-year sentence was changed twice because of new Turkish laws.

Yildirim had pressed for Agca's early release in 2004, calculating that he could be released as early as December 2005 under new laws. The court did not respond.

Agca served less than six months in Turkish prison in 1979 for killing Ipekci before he escaped, resurfacing in 1981 in Rome.

Given that earlier time served, the prison asked a court for permission to release Agca. The court ruled that Agca could now be freed this week, Anatolia said.

Agca reportedly identified with the Gray Wolves, a far right-wing militant group that fought street battles against leftists in the 1970s. He first confessed to killing Ipekci, one of the country's most prominent left-wing newspaper columnists, but later retracted his statements.