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Man who shot pope freed

Paroled after 25 years in prison

Agca holds up an issue of Time magazine, given to him by a journalist, after being released from prison in Istanbul.


Abdi Ipekci
Mehmet Ali Agca
John Paul II

ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- The man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II nearly 25 years ago was released from a Turkish prison on Thursday.

A gray-haired Mehmet Ali Agca left the prison and got into his lawyer's car amid a chaotic scene created by international media and about 50 nationalists who consider him a hero.

One of Agca's supporters threw flowers onto the car as it drove away.

Later Thursday, Justice Minister Cemil Cicek ordered that Agca's case be reviewed "to make sure that no errors were committed in the complicated case." Agca would remain free until an appeals court made the final decision, Cicek said.

Cicek told a news conference in Istanbul that Agca's release did not mean he could not be jailed again on the same charges.

Agca, 48, wearing a bright blue sweater, jeans and trainers, was freed on a cold, rainy Thursday five years after he was pardoned by Italy and extradited to Turkey. He had served 20 years in prison in Italy.

After his release, Agca -- who initially was handcuffed -- reported to a military recruitment center. As he left, uncuffed, he handed back to journalists a photocopy of a Time magazine cover showing him with the pope and the headline: "Why forgive?"

Agca, who had dodged the draft in the 1970s, then went for a routine checkup at a military hospital, where he was being screened to see if he was fit for mandatory military service. It was unclear whether the army would require him to serve.

Agca's lawyer told AP his client had applied previously to serve a shortened term in the military. Agca slipped away through a back door only used by high military commanders and his whereabouts were not immediately known.

"We are happy. We endlessly thank the Turkish state," his brother, Adnan, told The Associated Press. He said one of the first things Agca wanted to do was order a typical Turkish meal of beans and rice at a restaurant overlooking the Bosporus Strait, the narrow waterway that bisects Istanbul and joins the European and Asian continents.

Curious onlookers peered down from the windows and balconies of a nearby apartment building.

John Paul II was critically wounded in the May 13, 1981, shooting, which occurred as he rode in an open car across St. Peter's Square at the Vatican.

Agca shot the pope point-blank, striking him in the abdomen, left hand and right arm. Agca was captured immediately. (Watch what happened that day and when the pope forgave the gunman -- 2:19)

Doctors were able to save John Paul II's life largely because Agca's bullets missed his vital organs. The pope publicly forgave his would-be assassin three days after the shooting and later met Agca in prison.

Agca claims that he is now a man of peace specially chosen by God. The Vatican newspaper quoted him on Thursday as saying he would write a "new Bible" after his release from jail.

Turkish media have also quoted Agca saying he would like to meet John Paul's successor, Pope Benedict, when the pontiff visits Turkey later this year.

Agca served nearly two decades in an Italian prison for the shooting before being pardoned in 2000 by then-Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.

He was then transferred to Turkey to serve time for the 1979 murder of Turkish left-wing newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci and the robbery of an Istanbul factory that year.

Although Agca has served less than five years for Ipekci's slaying, under Turkish law his time in prison in Italy counted as time served for the murder.

Agca's release caused outrage among some in Turkey, and one newspaper labeled Thursday "the day of Turkey's shame."

Earlier this week, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the Vatican supports "the decisions of the courts involved in this matter."

In 2002, Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer vetoed an amnesty bill that would have freed Agca from prison.

Agca has given conflicting reasons over the years why he raised his gun above the crowd in 1981 and shot the pope. He has said he will speak about the assassination attempt if he is paid for doing so.

At his trial in Italy, he claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus and said the shooting was a fulfillment of a prophecy the Virgin Mary told children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917.

Some 14 years after the trial, the Vatican said the Virgin had indeed made such a prophesy.

Prosecutors failed to prove charges that Bulgaria's communist-era secret services had hired Agca to kill the pope on behalf of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported.

The so-called "Bulgarian Connection" trial ended with an "acquittal for lack of sufficient evidence" of three Turks and three Bulgarians charged with conspiring along with Agca.

John Paul II died April 2, 2005, at age 84. He was succeeded by Pope Benedict XVI.

CNN Correspondent Paula Newton contributed to this report

Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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