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Turkey Court Arraigns Pope Gunman

June 16, 2000

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AP) _ The gunman who shot Pope John Paul II loudly proclaimed during an unrelated hearing Friday that he was innocent in the killing of a Turkish newspaper editor who was investigating right-wing extremists.

Mehmet Ali Agca, who has already been convicted in absentia of the editor’s death, was being arraigned Friday on separate charges of armed robbery and car theft.

Earlier this week Italy pardoned Agca for the 1981 attempt on the pope, and extradited him to Turkey to serve a 10-year prison term for killing the editor, Abdi Ipekci.

Agca _ who belonged to a gang of rightist extremists _ was in court Friday in yet a third case focusing on a 1979 armed robbery of a soft drink factory and the theft of a car used in the getaway.

``I am not Ipekci’s murderer!″ Agca shouted. ``This is a fairy tale, and I was an actor in the scenario!″

Many in Turkey believe Ipekci was targeted by rightist gangs, which later helped Agca escape from a military prison during his murder trial.

``If I were guilty, I would have opposed my extradition,″ Agca said. ``I came to Turkey because this is all a fairy tale and my conscience is clear.″

Agca was soaked in sweat in the sweltering courtroom, his blue shirt hanging loosely over his jeans.

``There have been so many accusations against me,″ he said. ``These represent just the first floor of a 100-story skyscraper.″

Ipekci had been investigating Turkish criminal gangs and writing columns critical of nationalists when he was killed.

Turkey Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit welcomed Agca’s extradition as an opportunity to shed more light on the assassination. The identity of a second gunman is a mystery, and it is unclear who exactly helped Agca escape from prison.

Friday’s arraignment could be the first of many court appearances for Agca, who faces charges in at least two other crimes that took place before he shot the pope.

Judge Nusret Ince set a July 10 trial date on charges of stealing $4,500 from a soda factory and a getaway car in 1979.

The additional crimes include the killing of a left-wing student and the armed robbery a jewelry shop.

Ince said the jewelry shop case would be combined with the factory robbery. Agca could face an additional 9 1/2 years in a Turkish prison if convicted.

Italy pardoned Agca earlier this week after he’d served almost 20 years for the pope shooting. Agca said at first that he had acted alone in the attack in St. Peter’s Square, and then claimed the Bulgarian secret service and the KGB were behind the assassination attempt.

Similarly, Agca confessed to killing Ipekci, but later retracted his statements. He was sentenced to death in absentia but the sentence was later reduced to 10 years in prison. He served 158 days of the sentence before escaping.

Security at the courthouse was extremely tight Friday. Sharpshooters stood watch from rooftops, and armored personnel carriers patrolled the streets hours before Agca was due to appear. Police searched the courthouse after a bomb threat, but found no explosives.

They also detained three members of a leftist party demonstrating outside the courthouse with banners asking: ``Who do the secret hands belong to?″

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