Row as French First Lady Intervenes in Terrorist’s Extradition

Oct 14, 2008 10:34am

By Christophe Schpoliansky, ABC News Paris The diplomatic row between France and Italy continues over the extradition of a former Italian leftist terrorist, Marina Petrella. Petrella, 54, a former member of the militant left-wing Red Brigades that plagued Italy with attacks in the 1970s and 1980s, was sentenced in absentia in 1992 to life in prison for complicity in the 1981 murder of an Italian police chief. She took refuge in France in 1993, thanks to a doctrine created in the early 1980s by then President Francois Mitterand that granted asylum to the members of the Red Brigade and other Italian left-wing terrorist groups who’d renounced  violence. But after a request from Italy, Petrella was arrested in August 2007 in the Paris region, where she worked as a social worker. On June 3, 2008, a governmental decree authorizing the extradition of Petrella to Italy was signed. Indeed, over the past  few years, conservative French governments had moved away from Mitterrand’s policy. Suffering from severe depression, Petrella saw her health deteriorate, and in August 2008, a court ordered her freed. She has since been hospitalized in Paris. On Sunday, in a surprising move, the French president’s office announced that Petrella would not be extradited to Italy because of her poor health. This decision was made in accordance with a humanitarian clause of the 1957 extradition convention with Italy. In a statement, the French president’s office said that France’s decision only took account of Petrella’s health situation and did not tone down the country’s commitment to fighting terrorism alongside other countries.  It emerged  Monday that France’s first lady, Italian-born Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, had played a role in this decision. The Bruni family  immigrated to France in the 1970s,  partly because it feared kidnappings for ransom from groups like the Red Brigades. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s sister, actress and director Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, told Europe 1 radio Monday that she’d  intervened, with the help of her sister,  in Petrella’s favor with President Sarkozy. “I just thought it would be a terrible thing that she died. I just tried to give my opinion to my sister who gave hers to her husband," she said.  "But in the end  this is a decision taken by the  president,  who decided, for humanitarian reasons, that someone should not die." Last Wednesday, both sisters went to the hospital where Petrella is being treated to announce to the former terrorist that she would not be extradited. “At the end of our visit, I asked her to try to eat again, at least to try to start drinking again,”  Bruni-Sarkozy told the newspaper Liberation Sunday. “We could not let this woman die. … The situation had become intolerable, dangerous,” she added.  Bruni-Sarkozy told Liberation she was “happy” about her husband’s decision.  On Monday, President Sarkozy confirmed that he had asked his wife to go to the hospital. “I asked her because Mme.  Petrella was in peril of her life,” he said at the end of a press conference on the global financial crisis. “A humanitarian clause exists;  this humanitarian clause, I invoked it,” he said, adding that he met with Marina Petrella’s “doctor on several occasions." President Sarkozy considered that his decision not to extradite Petrella did not create “any misunderstanding” in Italy. “There is never misunderstanding when a humanitarian decision is taken,” he said during his press conference.  But reactions in Italy differ. The president of an Italian organization defending victims of terrorism has started a hunger strike in order to obtain Petrella’s extradition. “I started a hunger and thirst strike since the French president was moved by the one of Marina Petrella in order to convince him to extradite the terrorist," Bruno Berardi, president of the organization Domus Civitas Victims of  Terrorism and of the  Mafia,” told Agence France Presse. Berardi also announced he would travel to Paris Oct. 24 with members of his organization to protest against France’s refusal to extradite Petrella. Berardi’s father was assassinated by the Red Brigades in Turin in 1978. Sabina Rossa, whose  father,  Guido Rossa,  was gunned down in 1979 by the Red Brigades, also  reacted strongly. “The humanitarian motive” brought forward by the French authorities to justify this extradition “is unacceptable, as if Italy was lacking democratic principles,” Rossa, a Democratic Party parliament member told  Italian  radio. Reminding   people that the  president of the republic also had the right of reprieve in Italy, she  said that  such a decision showed that “this phenomenon of terrorism is viewed in a very different way” in countries of the European Union. “In France, these terrorists are considered as politically  persecuted persons, in almost a romantic way, and yet they killed 350 people.”  She said. “It’s important to turn pages of  history, and it is important, even for Italy, to turn this one, " Read more World View Blogs from ABC News staff

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