Man who tried to kill Pope John Paul II is freed

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The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 left prison a free man today after serving 25 years behind bars in Italy and Turkey for the plot against the Pontiff and the killing of a Turkish journalist.

To the cheers of nationalist supporters, a white car whisked Mehmet Ali Agca - whose attempt to assassinate the Pope gained notoriety for himself and shame for his homeland - through the gates of the high-security Kartal Prison as dozens of police officers stood guard.

Agca, 48, wearing a bright blue sweater and jeans, was freed five years after Italy - where he had served 20 years in prison - pardoned him and extradited him to Turkey.

"We are happy. We endlessly thank the Turkish state," said his brother, Adnan Agca, as curious residents of nearby apartment buildings peered down from their windows and balconies. As the car carrying Agca to freedom pulled away from the prison, his supporters showered it with red and yellow flowers.

Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, was taking the gunman to a military recruitment centre and to a military hospital, a routine procedure.

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.

John Paul was hit in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, but recovered because Agca's bullets missed vital organs.

Two years after the shooting, the Pope met Agca in prison and forgave him.