PARIS – A French court on Wednesday asked Italy for more information before deciding whether nine former Italian activists should be extradited to serve prison terms for their role in the far-left terrorism that has 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 sensitive point in relations with Italy.
The Paris court held an extradition hearing in June and was due to issue a decision on Wednesday, but instead asked Italy for more information on their legal cases and has scheduled a new hearing on January 12. The overall extradition effort could last two or three years.
Jean-Louis Chalanset, lawyer for one of the activists, welcomed the delay and denounced the extradition request as “political”.
The activists were sentenced in Italy to terms ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment, but sought refuge abroad before being jailed for their sentence. They were active during the so-called “years of lead”, when Italy witnessed political violence from far-left and far-right groups.
In April, thanks to new European justice rules, Italy renewed its efforts for their extradition. Seven were arrested at their homes in France, two more surrendered to the police the next day. A tenth person was later arrested and is the subject of a separate extradition hearing.
At the extradition hearing in June, the accused Giorgio Petrostefani did not appear due to serious medical problems. Petrostefani, of the far-left group Lotta Continua (The Struggle Continues), was convicted of the 1972 murder of the Milan police chief.
At the June hearing, former activist Marina Petrella said she was so shocked by this 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 murders, kidnappings and “knee pads”, in which targets were shot in the legs. These decades have also seen Italy plagued by bombings and other terrorist attacks by right-wing extremists.
Under a 1980s policy known as the “Mitterrand Doctrine”, named after Socialist President François Mitterrand, France refused to extradite Italian far-left activists who had taken refuge in France unless that there is no 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 Italy.
Announcing the arrests in April, the French presidency declared that “France, itself affected by terrorism, understands the absolute need for justice for the victims”.
The trial on the Islamic State attacks that rocked Paris on November 13, 2015 and left 130 dead is taking place in the same Parisian courthouse as Wednesday’s extradition hearing.