By ELISABETTA POVOLEDO
Published: October 14, 2008
ROME A decision by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France not to
extradite a former member of the Red Brigades, the group that
terrorized Italy throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, has
provoked outrage in Italy and stirred dormant tensions between the countries.
The decision also raised questions about the role played by the first
lady of France, Carla Sarkozy, who had visited the former member,
Marina Petrella, last week and personally assured her that she would
not be extradited.
Ms. Petrella was convicted of involvement in murder and other crimes
in Italy, and in 1993 fled to France, where President François
Mitterrand had a policy of granting asylum to leftist Italian
militants if they renounced violence. But later French governments
moved away from that policy, and she was jailed in August 2007.
This August she was released after her health deteriorated because of
severe depression. She had stopped eating, her lawyer, Irène Terrel,
said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "She just wanted to die,"
Ms. Terrel said.
Mr. Sarkozy announced over the weekend that Ms. Petrella, 54 and
hospitalized in Paris, would not be extradited, for what he called
Sabina Rossa, a center-left Italian lawmaker whose father was killed
by the Red Brigades in 1979, said on a morning radio talk show on
Tuesday that Mr. Sarkozy's justification was unacceptable. "It's
saying that Italy is a country at risk, without democratic
certainties, where a person's health is not evaluated seriously," she said.
Ms. Rossa said France had a distorted view of what life was like in
Italy during the years of terrorism. "There are people who committed
atrocious crimes and left a trail of blood, but in France there are
those who see them as victims of political persecution, with an aura
of the romantic hero," she said.
The Red Brigades' most notorious crime was the kidnapping and killing
of a former prime minister, Aldo Moro, in 1978.
Ms. Petrella was convicted of involvement in Red Brigades activities
in Rome from 1977 to 1982, including the kidnapping and murder of Mr.
Moro; the murder of Gen. Enrico Galvaligi, the head of antiterrorist
forces in northern Italy; the murder of a police commissioner and the
kidnapping of a magistrate.
Since her arrest, groups in France have protested her expected
extradition. Several high-profile personalities, including Mrs.
Sarkozy and her sister, the actress Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi, have
sympathized with her.
Last Wednesday, Mrs. Sarkozy visited Ms. Petrella in the hospital to
personally reassure her that she would not be extradited. "We could
not let this woman die," she told the French newspaper Libération this week.
A group representing victims of Italian terrorism said they would
protest in Paris this month and demand that Mr. Sarkozy reverse his
decision. The president of the group, Bruno Berardi, whose father was
killed by a Red Brigades member in 1978, said he had already
initiated a hunger strike. "Let's see if a protest on the part of a
victim of terrorism has the same effect on the French president," he said.
Ms. Terrel said Ms. Petrella was still too weak to be happy about the
turn in her fortunes. "If anything, she's relieved to be staying in
Paris," she said.