Pope John Paul's gunman freed after 25 years in jail

The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 was released from prison to the cheers of nationalist supporters outside the prison.

The Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 has been released from prison to the cheers of nationalist supporters at the gate.

Mehmet Ali Agca was whisked away from the high-security Kartal Prison on Thursday in a white sedan after spending more than 25 years in jails in Italy and Turkey for the shooting of the pontiff and the slaying of a Turkish journalist.

Agca, 48, fired at the Pope as he rode in an open car in St. Peter's Square in Rome. The pontiff was hit in the abdomen, left hand and right arm but recovered because the bullets missed vital organs.

Agca, a Turkish militant and member of the ultra-nationalist Grey Wolves, was captured immediately. He was given a life sentence but was pardoned by the Italian prime minister in June 2000. He was later extradited to Turkey to serve jail time for the 1979 murder of a Turkish journalist.

In 1983, the Pope met with Agca in jail and forgave him. In February 2005, Agca sent a letter to the Pope to wish him well through his illness. Prison officials refused Agca's request to attend the Pope's funeral in April 2005.

Agca's motive for the assassination attempt is still unclear. An Italian newspaper reported a claim by Agca that he was helped by accomplices in the Vatican, but Turkish media have discounted the claims.

Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, said he would take Agca to a military recruitment centre and military hospital, as is routine in such procedures.