ISTANBUL - Almost three decades after he shot and wounded Pope John Paul II, Mehmet Ali Agca walked free from prison on Monday, heading to a luxury hotel and proclaiming himself to be "Christ eternal".
Agca, 52, spent 19 years in Italian prisons and was then sent to his native Turkey to finish a 10-year term for the murder of a Turkish newspaper editor.
"His release is like a rebirth," said his lawyer Gokay Gultekin. "He has a lot to catch up with, like computers, the Internet and other devices that did not exist back in the 1980s. But before all that, he needs a vacation."
Vatican spokesperson the Reverend Federico Lombardi had no comment. John Paul II publicly forgave Agca. He died in 2005.
Agca shot the pope on May 13 1981, wounding him in the abdomen, left hand and right arm. He has never explained his motives.
He suggested that the KGB and Bulgarian intelligence were involved, but later retracted those claims. He had links to a Turkish ultra-nationalist group, the Gray Wolves.
It was not immediately clear where Agca would go or what he would do, beyond staying the night at the Sheraton in Ankara, the capital.
"We, his lawyers, his brother and his brother's friends will be contributing to his hotel costs and other expenses until he figures out what to do with his own life," Gultekin said.
Legal adviser Haci Ali Ozhan said Agca had applied for citizenship in Poland, John Paul's birthplace, and in Portugal, but had been denied.
Agca is reported to be considering an array of lucrative offers to tell his story. But there have long been questions about his mental condition.
A statement he distributed outside the prison at Sincan on the outskirts of Ankara on Monday said: "I proclaim the end of the world. All the world will be destroyed in this century. Every human being will die in this century.
"I am the Christ eternal. The Gospel is full of mistakes. I will write the perfect gospel." - Reuters