ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) – 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. 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 was 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 5 1/2 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.
His whereabouts remained unknown. But on Friday some 200 supporters gathered outside a police station in Istanbul after speculations that the gunman might show up to report that he was in town, a routine, daily procedure required for some inmates following their release from prison.
Agca, a draft-dodger, was expected to report daily at least until authorities decide on whether he should serve his military service. Police on Friday briefly detained four supporters outside the station in Pendik district, after they chanted: “Turkey is proud of you,” in reference to Agca.
Agca 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.
On Friday, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the No. 2 Vatican official, said the Vatican had “enormous respect” for Turkey’s judiciary. “We don’t have anything else to add. From the sky, John Paul II will help us,”
he told AP Television News after attending a ceremony to inaugurate the Vatican’s judicial year.