Mehmet Ali Agca to be released 28 years after shooting Pope John Paul II

Ankara, Turkey - Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II nearly 30 years ago, is to be released from a Turkish prison in January after 28 years in Italian and Turkish jails. He plans to pray at the late pontiff's tomb in Rome.

It was reported in Italy that he hoped to move to the country after he is released on January 18, 2010 from Yenikent prison in Ankara, where he is serving a sentence for crimes committed before the attack on the Pope.

La Repubblica said that Agca's first wish was to pray at the tomb of the Polish-born Pope in the crypt of St Peter's Basilica.

Agca, a member of the right-wing extremist Turkish organisation the Grey Wolves, served nearly 20 years of a life sentence at high-security prisons in Italy after he shot Pope John Paul in St Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, wounding him in the abdomen.

Agca was pardoned by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and deported in 2000 to Turkey, where he was immediately re-arrested and imprisoned for the murder of Abdi Ipekci, the editor of the Turkish newspaper Milliyet, two years before he shot the Pope.

He initially claimed when interrogated after the attack on the Pope that he had been recruited to carry out the assassination by the Bulgarian secret services acting on the orders of Moscow. He later withdrew this.

However the explanation is widely accepted by Italian investigators, who argue that the aim was to prevent John Paul, the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, from encouraging opposition to Communism in his native Poland and hence helping to bring down the Soviet system.

Agca, a Muslim who was forgiven by the Pope at a meeting in his prison cell just after Christmas 1983, announced two years ago that he had converted to Christianity. He said in May: "Once freed, I would like to be baptised. I would like to do it in front of media from all over the world, in the Vatican, exactly in front of St Peter's Square, the place where I struck Pope Wojtyla."

Reports said Turkish agents acting for Agca had negotiated book deals as well as an exclusive interview with an American television channel for which he would receive $2 million.

Maurizio Gasparri, a centre-right former Italian minister of communications, said: "It is shameful to enrich a criminal in this way. Terrorists and murderers should remain silent and not become rich stars."