France delays extraditing Italian far-left 1970s militants

U.S. & World

PARIS (AP) — A French court on Wednesday asked Italy for more information before deciding whether nine Italian former militants should be extradited to serve prison terms for their roles in the extreme-left terrorism that bloodied Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Italians, now aged 63 to 77, were convicted in Italy of terrorism, murder or attempted kidnapping but fled and lived in freedom for decades in France until their surprise arrests in April. Their presence in France has long been a sore point in relations with Italy.

The Paris court held an extradition hearing in June and was expected to make a decision Wednesday, but instead demanded more information from Italy about their legal files and scheduled a new hearing Jan. 12. The overall extradition effort could last two or three years.

Jean-Louis Chalanset, lawyer for one of the militants, welcomed the delay and denounced the extradition request as “political.”

The activists were sentenced in Italy to terms ranging from 14 years to life in prison, but sought refuge abroad before they could be imprisoned for their sentences. They were active during the so-called “years of lead,” when Italy saw political violence by extreme-left and extreme-right groups.

In April, thanks to new European justice rules, Italy renewed an effort for their extradition. Seven were arrested in their homes in France, two others surrendered to police the next day. A 10th person was arrested later and is being considered in a separate extradition hearing.

At the extradition hearing in June, defendant Giorgio Petrostefani didn’t appear because of grave medical problems. Petrostefani, from the far-left group Lotta Continua (The Struggle Continues), was convicted of the 1972 slaying of the Milan police chief.

At the June hearing, former militant Marina Petrella said she was so shocked by the turn of events that she couldn’t answer questions.

She and four other defendants were members of the Red Brigades, which during the 1970s and 1980s carried out killings, kidnappings and “knee-cappings,” in which targets were shot in the legs. Those decades also saw Italy plagued by bombings and other terror attacks by right-wing extremists.

Under a 1980s policy known as the “Mitterrand doctrine,” named for Socialist President Francois Mitterrand, France refused to extradite Italian far-left activists who had fled to France unless there was evidence that they committed “crimes of blood.”

“The past was the past. But France’s position was legally open to criticism,” said William Julié, a lawyer for Italy.

In announcing the arrests in April, the French president’s office said that “France, itself affected by terrorism, understands the absolute need for justice for victims.”

The trial over the Islamic State attacks that shook Paris on Nov. 13, 2015, and killed 130 people is taking place in the same Paris courthouse as Wednesday’s extradition hearing.

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