One of Colombia's most feared drug cartel assassins walked free on Tuesday after serving 22 years in jail for scores of murders ordered by notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar during the cocaine trafficking heyday of the 1980s, police said.

Jhon Jairo Velasquez, known by his alias 'Popeye', was released early from the high security Combita prison in central Boyaca after completing about three fifths of his sentence and receiving a reduction for studying and good behavior. He left the prison heavily guarded by state-provided protection.

Velasquez, 52, was Escobar's chief hit man during the bloodiest days of the infamous Medellin Cartel, which shipped billions of dollars of cocaine to the United States and Europe.

The prolific assassin, who has admitted to killing hundreds of Escobar's enemies, was on the frontlines of grisly gangland battles for territory and trafficking routes. He was indirectly behind thousands of deaths by killers on Escobar's payroll.

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