France arrests former members of Italy’s Red Brigades armed group
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France has arrested seven former members of left-wing armed groups including the Red Brigades at the request of Italy and is seeking three more, the French presidency said Wednesday. The detainees had benefited from protection under the so-called Mitterrand Doctrine when they came to France in the 1980s, creating a source of diplomatic tension between the countries.
President Emmanuel Macron gave the order to proceed with the 10 arrests, which concern some of the 200 people that Italy has been asking France to hand over for years, the Elysée Palace said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said the detainees will be handed over to authorities with a view to possible extradition to Italy, where they face long prison sentences.
Those arrested have been convicted of terror offences in Italy over murders, kidnappings and other offences during the Years of Lead, a period between the late 1960s and early 1980s in which political instability turned to bloodshed.
Political instability during this time saw left-wing and right-wing extra-parliamentary groups clashing in street brawls. Some leftist groups began carrying out shootings and bombings that claimed hundreds of lives.
The Red Brigades were among the most notorious, blamed for hundreds of murders, including the killing of kidnapped Christian Democrat leader and former Prime Minister Also Moro on 9 May 1978.
Refuge in France
Towards the end of this period, hundreds of members of Italian left-wing groups sought refuge in France, where they had some protection under the so-called Mitterrand Doctrine.
Named for former Socialist president François Mitterrand, the doctrine granted protection to Italian activists on the grounds that they renounced violence and had not been accused of bloodshed.
The policy has been the source of tension between France and Italy, not least because it was based on arguments that the activists could not be assured of impartial trials in the Italian justice system.
The French presidency said Macron still upheld the Mitterrand Doctrine and noted the seven individuals detained and three being sought have all been convicted of terrorism offences in Italy.
“France, also affected by terrorism, understands the absolute necessity of providing justice for victims,” the statement said.
“With this transfer, it is also part of the absolute need to build a Europe of justice in which mutual confidence must be at the centre.”
Italy welcomes arrests
Italian police said they helped French counterparts locate the five men and two women who were arrested.
Police said six detainees were former members of the Red Brigades, including Marina Petrella, Roberta Cappelli and Sergio Tornaghi, who have been sentenced to life in prison for taking part in murders and kidnappings.
Another of those arrested was Giorgio Pietrostefani, co-founder of the Lotta Continua group, who faces a 22-year prison sentence for his role in the 1972 murder of Milan police commissioner Luigi Calabresi.
The arrests come as a diplomatic olive branch by Macron on an issue that has long been a thorn in Franco-Italian relations.
“The government expresses its satisfaction for France’s decision to initiate judicial procedures, requested by Italy, against those responsible for very serious crimes of terrorism, which have left an open wound,” the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a statement.
“The memory of those barbaric acts is alive in the Italian conscience,” the statement added.
The lawyer representing five of the former Red Brigades members contested the respect being shown to the Mitterrand Doctrine.
“France gave them asylum, the authorities, right-wing and left-wing, and not François Mitterrand,” Irène Terrel, who said she would contest the extradition procedures in court.
“These people have been under France’s protection since the 1980s, they have build their lives here for 30 years, they live openly with their children and grandchildren… and then one morning, they’re taken away, 40 years later?” the lawyer asked.
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