By Hidir Goktas
ANKARA — Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981, has been detained and is set to return to jail after Turkey’s Supreme Court on Friday overturned a decision to release him.
Following the ruling, security forces seized Agca from an address in Istanbul and took him to police headquarters, Istanbul Governor Muammer Guler said on the NTV news channel.
The Justice Ministry had appealed against the move to release Agca from prison last week after he had served more than 25 years behind bars in Italy and Turkey.
The 48-year-old former right-wing gangster had served 19 years in an Italian prison for the assassination attempt before being pardoned at the Pope’s behest in 2000.
He was then extradited to Turkey to serve a separate sentence in an Istanbul jail for the 1979 murder of liberal newspaper editor Abdi Ipekci and charges dating from the 1970s.
Under new Turkish laws, his time served in Italy was initially deducted from the 25 years left on his sentence in Turkey.
But the Supreme Court ruled against this.
“There is no legal foundation for deducting Agca’s time spent in prison in Italy from the punishments for crimes which he committed in Turkey,” the court said in a written statement.
The chief prosecutor, who had the sole authority to challenge the verdict, did not do so and the ruling was sent to the lower court dealing with Agca’s case.
The lower court must now calculate how much more time he should serve in prison.
In the first government comment on the ruling, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said: “The justice ministry did its duty. After this it is down to the legal process.”
Agca’s lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, told NTV he would wait until he had received the official ruling before commenting.
Agca’s early release had triggered widespread criticism in Turkey from the government and media.
Upon his release on January 12, the army had insisted he must do his military service, obligatory for all Turkish men. But a military hospital said he was unfit to go into the army.
Agca had previously been imprisoned after killing Ipekci, but escaped with suspected help from sympathizers in the security services.
In the 1970s, he belonged to a militant far right faction and also had ties to Turkey’s criminal underworld.
His motives for shooting the Pope in Rome’s St Peter’s Square remain a mystery, but some believe he was a hitman for Soviet-era East European security services alarmed by the Polish-born pontiff’s fierce opposition to communism.
A former Italian magistrate, who investigated the 1981 shooting, says Agca could now be in danger as he knows too many secrets.
Over the years Agca has given conflicting reasons for raising his gun above the crowd in 1981 to shoot the Pope.
At his trial in Italy, he claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus and said the shooting was a fulfillment of a prophecy the Virgin Mary told children at Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. Some 14 years after the trial, the Vatican said the Virgin had indeed made such a prophecy.
Prosecutors did not prove charges that Bulgaria’s communist-era secret services had hired Agca to kill the Pope on behalf of the Soviet Union.