Seven Italians convicted of left-wing domestic terrorist crimes in the 1970s and 1980s, including several former members of the Red Brigades, were arrested at their homes in France on Wednesday, the French presidency said, a development Italy hailed as historic.
The crimes for which they were convicted include the 1980 killing of a Carabinieri paramilitary general and the kidnapping of a judge in the same year.
The arrests followed negotiation and agreement between Italy and France after decades during which Paris refused to act on many of the arrest warrants issued by Italy for convicted left-wing terrorists. The French presidency said new negotiations started when Emmanuel Macron was elected French president in 2017, but the decisive change came when Mario Draghi became Italian premier earlier this year.
The seven arrested individuals had fled Italy and sought refuge abroad before they could be imprisoned to serve their sentences. Police in France, aided by Italian police, are still searching for three others who eluded arrest at their homes.
Five of those arrested in what Italian police said was code-named Operation Red Shadows were former members of the Red Brigades, a group active during the 1970s and 1980s that carried out killings, kidnappings and so-called "kneecappings," in which targets were shot in the legs by attackers who fled. The group later fell dormant.
Also detained was Giorgio Petrostefani, 77, a militant from the far-left group Lotta Continua (Struggle Continues). Petrostefani was convicted of the 1972 slaying of Milan Police Chief Luigi Calabresi and sentenced to 22 years in prison.
The police chief's slaying was one of the more notorious crimes during the so-called "Years of Lead,'' when acts of terrorism committed by the extreme right and the extreme left bloodied Italy in the 1970s and 1980s.
Calabresi had been leading the interrogation of Giuseppe Pinelli, a suspected anarchist, about the 1969 bombing of a Milan bank that killed 17 people. Pinelli fell to his death from the 4th floor of police headquarters. The police chief was shot three times from behind while he walked to his car. The bank bombing has never been solved. Pinelli's death inspired a play and a movie.
France established in 1985 a policy known as the "Mitterrand doctrine," named for Socialist President Francois Mitterrand. It said that Italian far-left activists who had fled to France would not be extradited to Italy unless there was evidence that they committed "crimes of blood."
The various European arrest warrants that allowed Wednesday's arrests were set to expire between December this year and 2023, according to Italian police. A French court must decide on extradition to Italy for each person individually. The French presidency said definitive decisions could take two to three years depending on appeals.
"France's decision to remove every obstacle to the just route to justice is of historic importance,'' Italian Justice Minister Marta Cartabia said. She added that "my thought today, above all, goes to the victims of the Years of Lead and to their families, kept for so many years waiting for a response."
Italian Premier Draghi, who took office two months ago, expressed satisfaction, saying the cases "have left an open wound. "The memory of those barbaric acts is vivid in the conscience of Italians," he said in a statement released by his office.
Mario Calabresi, a prominent Italian journalist and editor and son of the slain Milan police chief, tweeted that what happened on Wednesday established "a fundamental principle: there mustn't exist free-zones for those who kills." But, Calabresi, added "I can't feel satisfaction in seeing an old and sick person in prison after so much time."
French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti told a news conference: "I am proud to take part in that decision which will enable Italy, I hope, after 40 years to turn a page of history that has been covered in blood and tears."
Amid the negotiatio...