PARIS (AP) — A French court is deciding Wednesday whether several Italian former militants should be extradited to serve prison terms for their roles in 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 arrest in April. Their presence in France has long been a sore point in relations with Italy.
Wednesday’s decision is likely to be appealed, and the overall extradition effort could last as much as two or three years.
The former militants 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 and a 10th person was arrested later.
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 hearing, former militant Marina Petrella said she was so shocked by the turn of events that she couldn’t answer questions. An earlier effort to extradite her was blocked by then-French President Nicolas Sarkozy for health reasons.
She and four other defendants were members of the Red Brigades, which during the 1970s and 1980s carried out killings, kidnappings and “kneecappings,” in which targets were shot in the legs. Those decades also saw the country 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, lawyer for the Italian state. Whatever happens Wednesday, he said he “will accept the judges’ decision.”
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 courthouse where Wednesday’s extradition ruling will be read.