PARIS – After living in freedom for decades in France, nine Italians convicted of left-wing terrorism for attacks in the 1970s and 1980s appeared in a Paris court Wednesday for an extradition hearing.
The hearing is a first step in what could be a two- or three-year process to determine whether to send them to Italy. But their arrest last week was seen as an important move toward resolving a long-festering political and judicial dispute between Rome and Paris.
Seven were arrested at their homes in France on Wednesday, and two others surrendered to police the next day. They were questioned and then released under judicial supervision.
Police are still seeking one other person. All 10 were convicted in Italy of crimes dating to the 1970s and 1980s, but had fled Italy and sought refuge abroad before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences.
The Paris court now must decide whether to approve the extradition of each person.
“I feel pain, I am in shock. ... I am not able to answer your questions," said one of the Italians, Marina Petrella, former member of the Red Brigades, which during the 1970s and 1980s carried out killings, kidnappings and “kneecappings,” in which targets were shot in the legs.
Four other Italians who appeared in court Wednesday were also from the Red Brigades.
Among those facing extradition hearings is Giorgio Petrostefani, 77, a militant from the far-left group Lotta Continua (The Struggle Continues), who was convicted of the 1972 slaying of the Milan police chief.
Also arrested was a member of the Armed Cells Against Territorial Power, who was convicted of the 1979 killing of a Carabinieri police officer. Others were also convicted for their roles in the murders of law enforcement officers.
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 doctrine was based on the idea that our country doesn’t respect democratic freedoms, or respects them less than France,” Italian cabinet minister Andrea Orlando told private Italian TV last week. “Italy defeated terrorism without weakening democracy.”
Italy has sought the extradition of around 200 convicted activists believed to be in France over the years, and after lengthy negotiations, France agreed this year to seek the arrests of 10 people convicted of particularly grave crimes.
One of the lawyers representing the Italians, Jean-Louis Chalanset, said they were “integrated” into French society and expressed outrage at their arrest.
“When you are in France for 30 years, free, working and living normally, when your residence permit is being renewed, you do not expect such a treason," he said.