Paris (CNSNews.com) – Decades after they are alleged to have been involved in a campaign of killing on behalf of radical Marxist groups in their home country, ten Italian fugitives who have lived in France for many years are now facing the prospect of being sent back to stand trial, after French President Emmanuel Macron became the first head of state to agree to Rome’s request for their extradition.
Of the ten wanted terrorists, seven are in custody and three are on the run. On Wednesday, a court of appeals in Paris will begin studying their cases and the basis of Italian arrest warrants against them.
The French League of Human Rights, an independent body, said the process could take months or even a year. It said the court should rule quickly on their status and decide whether to free them under judicial supervision or keep them in custody while it examines the validity of the Italian extradition requests.
The eight men and two women were accused and convicted of crimes committed in the 1970s and 1980s – a period of political violence known as the “years of lead” (anni di piombo) – including the murders of police officers and others, actions carried out on behalf of a range of radical leftist groups. They fled and sought refuge in France before serving their sentences.
Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia was quoted as saying the French decision to arrest the fugitives was a “historic” one.
Italy began requesting their extradition 30 years ago but France consistently refused to return them.
Under what was known as the “Mitterrand doctrine” – named for socialist president François Mitterrand (1981-1995) – French governments allowed the fugitives to stay in France on condition they pledged to renounce violence.
According to lawyer Marie Dosé Italy has asked for the extradition of around 200 suspects in France, but French authorities only accepted ten, “for the extremely serious nature of the crimes committed.”
The fugitives are Marina Petrella, 66, a former Red Brigade member sentenced for the murder of a police general in 1980, the kidnapping of a magistrate in 1982, and other killings.
Roberta Cappelli and Sergio Tornaghi, former members of the Red Brigades, were sentenced to life imprisonment for taking part in various murders and kidnappings.
Luigi Bergamin, 72, a former member of “Armed Proletarians for Communism,” and Raffaele Ventura, 71, a former member of the “Communist Fighting Formations,” were sentenced for their roles in the murder of law enforcement officers.
Giorgio Pietrostefani of the “Continuous Struggle” group was sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment for his role in the 1972 murder of Milan’s police commissioner
Narciso Manenti of the “Armed Nuclei for Territorial Counter-Power” was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of a gendarme in 1979, and Enzo Calvitti, also a member of the Red Brigades, was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment for terrorist association and participation in an armed gang.
Giovanni Alimonti was sentenced for the attempted murder of a police officer in Rome in 1982, and the tenth fugitive, Maurizio Di Marzio, was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment in 1992 for acts of terrorism.
Dosé noted that some of the wanted Italians have had children and grandchildren in France, and all have residence permits. She called the extradition issue a complicated one, and said the decision appears to be politically motivated.
Macron’s office in a statement said the arrests occurred “after months of negotiations with Rome and they reduced the list of people it wanted to see extradited from 200 to ten.”
Every president since Mitterrand following his lead on the question of the Italian fugitives. In one case in 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to extradite Petrella even though a French court had given its assent. Sarkozy said at the time he was acting for humanitarian reasons because of Petralla’s bad health due to depression and a hunger strike.
Marc Lazar, a historian and Italy expert, said Macron’s decision could be explained by domestic and foreign policy considerations.
“First, for a few weeks now, Emmanuel Macron made security issues one of his priorities,” he said. “He is sending a message of firmness.”
Lazar said Macron was also hoping to improve relations with Italy at a time of uncertainty and transition in France’s traditional partner in the European Union, Germany.
“Since we do not yet know who will succeed Angela Merkel, it is a good bet” for Macron to focus on ties with Rome, he told Europe 1 Radio.
Monica Lanzoni, a researcher who wrote a thesis about Italian far-left activists who moved to France last century, said earlier that many were attracted to France because it is “geographically, linguistically and culturally close to Italy.”
Macron’s decision has not brought much comment from political figures here, apart from Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of leftist movement Rebellious France, who tweeted that under Macron, “France no longer keeps its word.”