Italian fugitive heads home to serve life term for murder

ROME (AP) — A left-wing Italian militant who was convicted of murder three decades ago is heading home to serve a life sentence, after his life as a celebrity fugitive came to an abrupt end with his arrest in Bolivia by a team of Interpol agents.

Cesare Battisti was handed over to Italian custody late on Sunday in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where he was located by Italian intelligence agents after using one of his mobile devices. Italy sent a government aircraft to pick him up, and the plane left late Sunday bound for Rome.

“It is done,” Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte tweeted. “The plane has just taken off from Santa Cruz direct for Rome with Cesare Battisti on board.”

A photo released by the Italian Interior Ministry showed Battisti — wearing the same blue T-shirt he was wearing when he was arrested late on Saturday — sitting in the aircraft cabin with a gray blanket over his lap.

He arrived in Rome yesterday afternoon and was immediately transferred to the capital’s main Rebibbia prison, a remarkably quick finale to one of Italy’s most drawn-out efforts to bring a fugitive to justice.

Italian Cesare Battisti. – AP

The 64-year-old, who became a successful author during his life on the run, had lived openly in Brazil and France for years and enjoyed the protection of left-wing governments on both sides of the Atlantic, much to the consternation of a succession of Italian governments. But Brazil’s outgoing president signed a decree last month ordering his extradition, apparently sparking Battisti’s latest effort to flee to Bolivia, where he had tried unsuccessfully to obtain political asylum.

Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder allegedly committed when he was a member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism. He was convicted in absentia in 1990 and faces a life term for the deaths of two police officers, a jeweller and a butcher.

He acknowledged membership in the group but denied killing anyone and painted himself as a political refugee who would face certain torture or death in Italy.

After initially fleeing to Mexico, he then went to France, where he joined dozens of left-wing Italian militants who enjoyed official protection from the French government.

Like Battisti, they fled Italy during that nation’s “years of lead”, a bloody and turbulent era during the 1970s and 1980s when militants on the left and right carried out bombings, assassinations and other violent acts to try to bring down the Italian government.