Italian ex-militant extradited and jailed after decades on run

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Former communist militant Cesare Battisti, wanted in Italy for four murders in the 1970s, arrived in Rome on Monday after an international police squad tracked him down and arrested him in Bolivia.

Jailed in 1979 for belonging to an armed revolutionary group outlawed in Italy, Battisti escaped from prison two years later, and has spent nearly four decades on the run.

An Italian-flagged Falcon 900 plane carrying Battisti landed at Rome’s Ciampino airport on Monday morning.

Battisti, who was not wearing handcuffs, smiled grimly as he was escorted off the plane by a dozen policemen.

He was expected to be taken to Rome’s Rebibbia jail, where according to media reports he will begin life behind bars with six months solitary confinement.

“In the name of 60 million Italians, I want to thank law enforcement for having given us this ray of sunlight, this hope, this certainty, this renewed faith in justice,” Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told journalists at Ciampino.

“This is not the finish line but the starting point,” Salvini said, citing the presence of “dozens” of other former militants still on the run in countries from Latin America to France.

Italy had repeatedly sought the extradition of the Battisti, who lived in Brazil for years under the protection of former leftist president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, himself now in prison for corruption.

Battisti, 64, was seized late Saturday in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in an operation carried out by a joint team of Italian and Bolivian officers, Italian state police said.

– ‘Rot in jail’ –

The fugitive could be seen walking casually about Santa Cruz in sunglasses and a blue T-shirt, in surveillance footage taken hours before his capture. He gave up without a struggle, according to Italian government sources.

Battisti was sentenced to life imprisonment for having killed two Italian policemen, taking part in the murder of a butcher and helping plan the slaying of a jeweller who died in a shootout that left his teenage son in a wheelchair.

“It’s over, now the victims can rest in peace,” said Alberto Torregiani, the son of the slain jeweller.

“It should have happened years ago.”

Battisti has admitted to being part of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, a radical group which staged a string of robberies and attacks, but has always denied responsibility for any deaths, painting himself as a political refugee.

However Rome is determined to punish one of the key figures from Italy’s so-called Years of Lead, a decade of violent turmoil which began in the late 1960s and saw dozens of deadly attacks by hardline leftwing and rightwing groups.

During his election campaign, Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro — who took office on January 1 — vowed that if elected he would “immediately” send Battisti back to Italy.

Battisti had filed for asylum without receiving any response from authorities, Bolivia’s ombudsman said in an article published in the local El Deber de Santa Cruz newspaper.

He had been hoping to find favour with Bolivia’s left-wing President Evo Morales after saying in his asylum request he had been forced to quit Brazil due to “the ominous coincidence” that Italy and Brazil were both now run by “far-right” governments.

– ‘Little gift’ –

Bolsonaro’s son, Brazilian lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, tweeted in Italian with a picture of Battisti: “Brazil is no longer the land of bandits. Matteo Salvini, the ‘little gift’ is on its way.”

Since his jailbreak Battisti had reinvented himself as an author, writing a string of noir novels. In 2004, he skipped bail in France, where he had taken refuge. He then went to live clandestinely in Brazil until he was arrested in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro.

After years in custody, then-president Lula issued a decree — later upheld by Brazil’s Supreme Court — in 2010 refusing Battisti’s extradition to Italy, and he was freed, angering Rome.

Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, last year told AFP he faced “torture” and death if he were ever to be sent back to Italy.