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BosNewsLife (01/08/06) – A court in Turkey has ordered the release from prison of the man who shot and seriously wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981, Turkish national news agency Anatolian reported Sunday, January 8.

The court ruled that Mehmet Ali Agca had completed his sentence for separate crimes he committed in Turkey , Anatolian said. He was expected to be released on his 48th birthday Monday, January 9.

Agca, a former Turkish militant, was extradited to Turkey in 2000 after serving almost 20 years in Italy for shooting and wounding the pope in St. Peter’s Square in Rome .

He shot Pope John Paul II four times on May 13, 1981, with his nine millimeter pistol from some 15 feet (5 meters) away while the pontiff met the crowds in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City .

One hand rising to his face and blood staining his garments, the Pope reportedly faltered and fell into the arms of his Polish secretary, the Rev. Stanislaw Dziwisz, and his personal servant, Angelo Gugel, who were in the open car with him.

“How could they do it?” a nurse quoted the Pope as asking, according to The New York Times newspaper.

There has given conflicting reasons for his assassination attempt. Suspicions remained that the Turk acted on behalf of the former Soviet bloc, which allegedly feared that the Polish-born pope would help trigger anti-communist revolts.

The Turk initially claimed he was acting alone in the attack, but later said he was trained by Bulgarian and Czech experts and blamed the Soviet secret service KGB for the attempted assassination.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Bulgaria strongly denied the allegations. Following the shooting, Pope John Paul II forgave Agca saying people should “pray for my brother (Agca), whom I have sincerely forgiven.”

In 1983, Pope John Paul II and his attacker met and spoke privately at the Italian prison where Agca was being held. The pontiff also kept contacts with Agca’s family over the years, having met his mother in 1987 and his brother a decade later.

A request by Agca to attend last year’s funeral of the pope was reportedly declined by Turkish authorities.

“They had declared brotherhood when the Pope visited him in prison,” Agca’s brother Adnan said of the 1983 meeting in published remarks.”[the pope] was Agca’s brother, would not you be sad if you had lost your other?”

Pope Benedict XVI, John Paul’s successor, is expected to pay an official visit to mainly Muslim Turkey in November.

Upon his return to Turkey , Agca was sent to prison to serve a 10-year sentence for murdering Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979. He was separately sentenced to seven years and four months for two robberies in Turkey the same year.

Agca reportedly identified with the Gray Wolves, a far right-wing militant group that fought street battles against leftists in the 1970s. He first confessed to killing Ipekci, one of the country’s most prominent left-wing newspaper columnists, but later retracted his statements.

Following his likely release Monday, January 9, Agca, a draft-dodger, was expected to be immediately enlisted by the Turkish military for obligatory military service, Anatolian said.