The man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 began his first day back in an Istanbul prison Saturday, while his brother led a brief protest outside the penitentiary accusing authorities who ruled for his return to custody of bowing to government pressure. Mehmet Ali Agca was returned to Kartal prison, the same Istanbul lockup from which he was released eight days ago, on Friday, hours after an appeals court ruled he should serve out his full sentence for the killing of a Turkish journalist and other crimes. His return followed public outrage at his early release.
The appeals court overturned a lower court's ruling that set Agca free on Jan. 12. A local prosecutor will decide how many more years he should serve. Reports have suggested he could be imprisoned until 2014. The gunman's brother, Adnan Agca, and a score of nationalist supporters held banners outside Kartal, denouncing the government that ordered a review of Agca's case and media organizations that had decried the decision to free him.
"The judges and prosecutors are under threat and pressure," Adnan Agca told reporters. Agca's lawyer Mustafa Demirbag meanwhile, called on prosecutors to investigate whether the justice minister broke laws by meddling in the case, private NTV television reported. An assistant for Demirbag said Saturday the lawyer was too busy to take calls.
Agca had served 19 years in an Italian prison for the 1981 attack on the pope and then another 5Ѕ years of a 10-year sentence in Turkey for murdering journalist Abdi Ipekci in 1979.
John Paul was wounded in the abdomen, left hand and right arm, but recovered because the bullets had missed vital organs. Agca had fired on John Paul as the pope rode in an open car in St. Peter's Square. The pope visited and forgave him in his prison cell in Rome in 1983. Many Turks were outraged at the lower court's decision to release Agca by counting the prison time he had served in Italy for shooting the pope toward his 10-year sentence for killing Ipekci. Justice Minister Cemil Cicek asked for a review, and the judges ruled unanimously Friday that Agca should return to prison.
Newspaper reports said Agca was watching television news about his likely arrest when police officers knocked at his door to take him away. "He was at home ready waiting for the police," Adnan Agca told reporters.
Agca, handcuffed and wearing a blue sweater, was taken to a police headquarters in Istanbul before returning to jail. With scores of cameras turned on him, he shouted in English, Turkish and Italian: "I declare myself Messiah. I am not the son of God, I am Messiah." Most commentaries in newspapers welcomed Agca's return to prison. "Back where he belongs" read a headline in Milliyet. "The murderer couldn't escape," said Radikal newspaper.
Demirbag, criticized the decision Friday, saying it had been fueled by media pressure. "The media won, the law lost," he said. Cicek had argued that Agca should serve a full 10-year sentence for killing Ipekci. He suggested the sentence should be counted from June 14, 2000, when Agca was extradited to Turkey from Italy.
Agca has also been convicted in a soda factory robbery and for stealing a vehicle in 1979, and could be ordered to serve an additional four years for each of those crimes.
Agca initially was sentenced to death for Ipekci's murder, but a 1991 amnesty commuted that sentence to 10 years. In 2000, a court convicted him of the other crimes, the factory robbery and the vehicle theft, and sentenced him to 36 years. Another court then ruled he could not serve more than a total of 36 years, which is considered as life in prison, for all his crimes.
A second amnesty in 2000 deducted 10 years from his time, but the appeals court Friday ruled that deduction was invalid. In 1979, Agca escaped from a military prison in Turkey after serving just five months.
When he was released on Jan. 14, Agca spent his few days as a free man in the apartment of a friend on the Asian side of Istanbul. Adnan Agca said he spent three days with his brother, who "ate from a porcelain dish for the first time, felt the rain for the first time, freely read newspapers and watched television and took showers without feeling any pressure."
Before shooting the pope, Agca was affiliated with the Gray Wolves, a Turkish right-wing militant group. A scandal in 1996 revealed that the state used members of the Gray Wolves to kill insurgents, and many ultranationalists regard them as national heroes, reports the AP. N.U.