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Turkey Recoils at Release of Man Who Shot Pope

Mehmet Ali Agca is released from a military office in Istanbul, Jan. 12, 2006.
Bulent Kilic
AFP/Getty Images
Mehmet Ali Agca is released from a military office in Istanbul, Jan. 12, 2006.

Many Turks are confused by the early release of the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981. Mehmet Ali Agca was also convicted of the 1979 murder of a liberal newspaper editor in Turkey.

Last week's release was condemned by the Turkish media, which argued Agca had only served 5 years in prison for crimes committed in Turkey before his attack on the pope. Agca was convicted of killing newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci in 1979. Agca's mysterious escape from prison several months after his conviction fueled suspicion of a larger conspiracy involving politicized elements of the Turkish security services.

The fugitive fled Turkey, and spent two years traveling throughout the Middle East and Europe before he shot and wounded the pope in St. Peter's square. Agca was caught and spent 19 years in an Italian prison before his extradition to Turkey, where he was to have served a life sentence for the Ipekci murder.

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Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.