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Pope shooter escaped military prison in 1979 { January 20 2006 }

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Court: Pope gunman must return to jail
Friday, January 20, 2006; Posted: 11:53 a.m. EST (16:53 GMT)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) -- A Turkish court on Friday ruled that the Turkish gunman who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 should return to prison to serve more time for killing a Turkish journalist and for other crimes in Turkey.

No arrest warrant was immediately issued for Mehmet Ali Agca, whose whereabouts were not immediately known. It was not clear if the appeals court prosecutor, Nuri Ok, will object to the ruling.

The appeals court ruling came eight days after Agca was released from an Istanbul prison.

If the prosecutor approves the ruling, then he will relay the decision to the local prosecutor in Istanbul who would then issue an arrest warrant for Agca. Until then, police cannot start a manhunt for him.

Agca served 19 years in prison in Italy for shooting the pope on May 13, 1981, and 51/2 of a 10-year sentence in Turkey for the murder of a Turkish journalist in 1979.

In ordering his release, the local court had counted the time served in Italy, but many Turks were outraged over the decision.

The appeals court on Friday said his time in Italy should not have been deducted from his time in Turkey.

Responding to the public outcry, Justice Minister Cemil Cicek had asked the appeals court earlier this week to annul Agca's release, arguing that he should serve a full 10-year term for killing Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci, beginning June 14, 2000, when he was extradited to Turkey.

Agca vanished from the public eye following his release from prison on Jan. 12, although authorities said they had intelligence about his whereabouts. He appeared in public on Monday when he reported to a military hospital, but then slipped away again when he left the hospital.

Earlier Friday, Turkish police cautioned that officers cannot be held responsible if the gunman were to flee abroad before an arrest warrant is issued.

"If there is no order for his arrest, then police can have no responsibility," Police spokesman Ismail Caliskan said Friday.

Caliskan, however, said he could not discuss whether intelligence services were monitoring the gunman.

Ipekci family's lawyer, Turgut Kazan, told CNN-Turk television that "the police was now responsible" if Agca were to escape.

Agca had already served five months for the journalist's murder before escaping a military prison in 1979.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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