The Turkish gunman who tried to kill Pope John Paul II nearly 25 years ago has been released from prison. The move has sparked outrage across Turkey where the assailant was serving time for the murder of a prominent left-wing journalist.

As Mehmet Ali Agca left Kartal prison escorted by Turkish paramilitary officers, hundreds of nationalist supporters showered him with orange flowers. But elsewhere across Turkey there was deep anger that the country's most notorious criminal had been freed.

Echoing sentiment in the Turkish media, the mainstream daily Milliyet described Agca's release in front-page banner headlines as "The Day of Shame."

The 48-year-old would be killer of Pope John Paul II was freed five years after he was pardoned by Italy and extradited to Turkey. He served more than 20 years in an Italian prison where the pope visited him in 1983 and forgave him.

A enigmatic figure with alleged connections to ultra-nationalist death squads that operated in Turkey in the years leading up to the 1980 military coup, Agca shot the pope in May 1981. The pontiff survived because none of his vital organs were hit. The gunman's motives remain shrouded in mystery til this day.

Agca staged the attempted killing after escaping from a Turkish prison where he was serving time for the murder of Abdi Ipekci, the managing editor of the Milliyet newspaper.

Turgut Kazan is the lawyer for the Ipekci family. He told the CNN Turks news channel that "the law has been murdered today."

Kazan says that he will appeal the court decision to free Agca on grounds it was based on what he termed an "erroneous calculation" of his sentence.

The court decided to release Agca last week, although he served only 11 years for the Ipekci murder, after taking into account a controversial amnesty law that was passed in 1999. The attorney said the Ipekci family would appeal to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights if justice is not served in Turkey.