Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia frees drugs lord's hired killer 'Popeye'

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Media captionThe BBC's Arturo Wallace in Bogota says opinion in Colombia is divided over the prisoner's early release

One of Colombia's most notorious hired killers has been released from prison after serving 22 years of a 30-year sentence.

Jhon Jairo Velasquez, nicknamed Popeye, was the top hit man of late Colombian drug baron Pablo Escobar.

He confessed to killing 300 people and also claimed a hand in up to 3,000 killings in the 1980s and 1990s.

But he also gave evidence against an ex-justice minister convicted of ordering the killing of a rival.

Velasquez, 52, walked free from the Combita high-security prison on Tuesday to start a probation period of four years.

He left under heavy police escort, a sign of the risks he believes he will face outside jail.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption There was heavy security at the entrance to Combita prison when Velasquez was released
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Jhon Jairo Velasquez was Pablo Escobar's most notorious hit man

The BBC's Arturo Wallace in Bogota says Colombia is divided over his early release.

Several victims insist he still hasn't paid for all his crimes, while others say that after two decades in jail it is time to give him a second chance, our correspondent says.

Velasquez was convicted for his part in the murder of presidential hopeful Luis Carlos Galan in 1989.

But he later turned state's witness against former Justice Minister Alberto Santofimio, a rival candidate in the 1990 presidential election, who was convicted of ordering Mr Galan's killing.

Mr Galan had taken a hard line against powerful drug cartels and was favourite to win the election, but he was was shot dead in a town outside Bogota as he prepared to give a speech.

Santofimio, now serving a 24-year sentence, was a close associate of Escobar - the founder of the Medellin cartel which was engaged in a war against the Colombian state.

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