Turkey: Pope Shooter Unfit for Military

A military hospital determined Monday that the Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 is not fit for the obligatory military service he evaded as a youth, his lawyer reported.

The judgment came after Mehmet Ali Agca entered the Istanbul hospital for a medical exam, making his first public appearance since being freed from prison Thursday and after failing to report to a police station over the weekend as required while his draft status was studied.

The decision ended days of speculation about whether the 48-year-old Agca would have to serve in the army after spending some 25 years in prison in Italy and Turkey.

Doctors who examined Agca ruled he was not fit for military service, the Anatolia news agency said, quoting Agca's lawyer, Mustafa Demirbag, who spoke to reporters in Istanbul.

The hospital and the lawyer gave no explanation. Agca reportedly complained about inflammation in his hands and feet, and there were long-standing questions about his mental health based on his frequent outbursts and claims that he was the Messiah.

Agca escaped from a military prison in 1979 where he was serving time for murdering a prominent Turkish journalist, Abdi Ipekci, that same year. He was declared a draft-dodger in 1980.

He shot the pope in St. Peter's Square in Rome on May 13, 1981, and served about 19 years in a prison in Italy. He was extradited in 2000, to Turkey, where he served 5 1/2 years in connection with the killing of the journalist.

Agca still faces a threat of returning to prison amid questions over whether he served enough time for Ipekci's slaying. His release outraged many Turks and judicial authorities are reviewing the decision.

Justice Minister Cemil Cicek ordered a review within hours of Agca's release to see whether there were any legal flaws. He later suggested Agca could be returned to prison to serve at least 11 more months in Turkey for his crimes here.

Cicek said he would ask an appeals court Tuesday to review the case. Agca will remain free until the court review is finished.