PARIS — A French appeals court on Wednesday rejected Italy’s request to extradite 10 far-left terrorists exiled in France for decades for their involvement in violence in Italy during the 1970s and 1980s.
The decision overturns efforts by the French government last year to lift protections granted to Italian extremists including some ex-Red Brigades members.
The judges “gave a negative opinion on all demanded extraditions,” top prosecutor Rémy Heitz said in a written statement, adding that the decision can be appealed before the Cour de Cassation, France’s supreme court.
French authorities arrested the Italian terrorists last year, a breakthrough that came after negotiations between the Italian and French governments — and that was welcomed as a sign of a new-found alliance between the two countries.
In an emailed statement, Italy’s Justice Minister Marta Cartabia said she “respected decisions by the French judiciary,” but also stressed that she wanted to know the motivation for the ruling, which has not been published yet. The 10 individuals were convicted decades ago in Italy but ultimately found protection in France.
“This is a judgment long awaited by the victims and the entire country, concerning a dramatic and still painful page of our history,” Cartabia added, while thanking again France’s Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti for having “removed a decades-long political deadlock” last year.
In a written reply, France’s justice ministry declined to comment on the merits of the decision but stressed “the high level of mutual trust between the French and Italian authorities, who both share a stringent conception of the rule of law.”
Under Socialist French President François Mitterrand, France in the 1980s offered refuge to far-left terrorists, refusing to extradite them to Italy, where particularly severe criminal laws and exceptional judicial procedures had been implemented to fight political terrorism. An Elysée official last year stressed that the so-called Mitterand doctrine however did not apply to a case such as this one which involve violent crimes.
Wednesday’s decision triggered the fury of Italy’s right-wing politicians who are part of Draghi’s ruling coalition. Center-right MEP Antonio Tajani slammed Wednesday’s ruling and accused French judges of “active participation in a criminal and subversive project.” Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right League, tweeted that “protecting terrorists who killed in Italy is shameful, disgusting!”
This article has been updated with the French justice ministry’s response.