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More Jail For Pope Gunman?

Istanbul, TURKEY: Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turk who attempted to kill pope John Paul II in 1981, displays a Time magazine cover featuring him and John Paul II seen, as he got out from a military office in Pendik, in Istanbul, 12 January 2006.
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The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II, might have been released from prison by mistake and may be returned to his cell to serve at least 11 more months for murdering a Turkish journalist, a newspaper said Friday, quoting the country's justice minister.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek ordered a review of Mehmet Ali Agca's complicated case hours after the gunman was released from prison on Thursday to see whether any errors were committed in freeing him amid strong criticism. Agca would remain free until an appeals court reviewed the case.

"According to preliminary information, I think the critical point is for how long Agca served time in Italy," the Milliyet newspaper quoted Cicek as saying in an interview.

Cicek was quoted as saying that a local judge, who decided Agca's release, calculated he served "20 years," in Italy but had not explicitly "stated dates when he entered and released from prison."

"We will find that out by examining his file, for example if he served 19 years and not 20 years, then Agca must serve one more year in Turkey," Cicek said.

Agca spent 19 years and one month in prison in Italy between the day he was captured after he shot the pope on May 13, 1981, in St. Peter's Square in Rome, and his extradition to Turkey on June 14, 2000.

According to that calculation, Agca must serve 11 more months in prison, the newspaper said.

Turkish authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Many Turks were outraged at the decision to free Agca, approved by local courts, and Cicek apparently was responding to widespread criticism of the release after Agca served about 5½ years for murdering Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci, the chief columnist of Milliyet, in 1979.

"All of this shows that there are loopholes in our system that have to be corrected without delay so that we don't have many more cases like Agca's on our hands," Ilnur Cevik, chief columnist and publisher of the New Anatolian newspaper, wrote Friday.

Agca, 48, received a hero's welcome by his ultranationalist admirers, who tossed flowers at the car whisking him through the gates of the high-security Kartal Prison outside Istanbul.

He had time in prison for attempted murder in Italy, where John Paul forgave him in a famous visit to his cell in 1983. He was extradited to Turkey to serve time for the murder of Ipekci and two robberies also in 1979.

Cicek said a military court had ordered Agca's execution in 1980 for murdering Ipekci. In 1991, an amnesty commuted that sentence to full 10 years in prison. But in 2002, the death sentence was commuted to life in prison - translated as 36 years - after Turkey abolished the death penalty.

Mustafa Demirbag, the gunman's lawyer, said the local court that ordered Agca's release deducted his time served in Italy and Turkey, where he previously was jailed for six months before escaping in 1979. Demirbag said his client was released on parole for "good behavior."

Turkish media strongly criticized his release.

"Terrorist the Hero!" the daily Sabah headlined Friday.

"The murderer is among us," Milliyet said.

Agca disappeared through the back door of a military hospital after a routine checkup, and his whereabouts remained unknown. He had been driven to the hospital in a black Mercedes sedan, prompting the Hurriyet newspaper to headline on Friday: "Here is your Mercedes, Mr. Murderer."

Agca's release passed with little notice at the Vatican, with Pope Benedict XVI making no public mention of it during a busy day of audiences and speeches. Vatican Radio carried a brief interview with a spokesman for Turkish bishops, Monsignor Georges Marovich, who urged the public not to make a big deal about it.

"The less it's talked about, the better," he said, noting that John Paul had forgiven Agca. "Once again, we pray for him that the Lord illuminates him and that he makes a new life."
By Selcan Hacaoglu