On the run through France, Mexico, Brazil and Bolivia.
Cesare Battisti, 64, has been extradited back to Milan, after almost four decades on the run, to face trial for four homicides in 1978 and 1979, which he has now for the first time admitted carrying out.
“I’m aware of the bad I have done, and I ask the victims to forgive me,” Battisti told Alberto Nobile, Milan anti-terrorism prosecutor, who interviewed him on his arrival in Milan, and who is investigating the network of helpers who presumably helped the fugitive during his flight through France and Mexico to Brazil.
Battisti was convicted in 1979 of belonging to a far-left terrorist group called the Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC). He escaped from prison in 1981 and was later convicted in absentia for personally killing a prison guard and a plain-clothes police officer, and for being involved in the death of two shopkeepers during fund-raising robberies. During one of these, a jeweller’s 14-year-old son was severely injured and became a paraplegic. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.
He fled first to France and from there to Mexico. He returned to France during the period of the “Mitterrand doctrine” under which former terrorists who had given up their activity were declared exempt from extradition. He was twice briefly held, but released each time pending appeal. Learning that his appeal had been rejected by the ECHR, he fled again.
He settled in Brazil, where he was arrested in 2007. However, the then president Lula da Silva on his last day in office granted him political asylum, accepting his claim that he was a fugitive for his protest activities. A heated debate ensued In Italy and Brazil between those who condoned his political motives and others who were appalled by the killings.
Battisti settled down and wrote 15 crime novels. However, Lula was disgraced, the regime changed, and the new Brazilian president Temer in December accepted Italy’s demand for extradition to face criminal rather than political charges.
Learning that the extradition was about to be carried out, Battisti made a last dash across the border to Bolivia, but he was run to ground there in January and held until the legal formalities were completed, arriving back in Milan last week.
Battisti had always admitted being a member of the PAC, claiming that the killings for which he was responsible were episodes in a just war against the state. “For him at the time it was a just movement,” Nobile told media after interviewing Battisti. “Now he is aware of the madness of those ‘years of lead’,” as the terrorism-plagued 1970s are known in Italy.
When he comes to trial, his confession may have the effect of saving him from the rigorous “Article 41bis” hard prison regime reserved for mafiosi and unrepentant former terrorists.