Bolivia extradites Italian ex-militant

Italian Interior Ministry picture shows Cesare Battisti sitting on board a plane prior to taking off from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, on January 13, 2019Image copyright

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A picture of Cesare Battisti on the plane leaving Bolivia was released by the Italian interior ministry

An Italian former communist militant captured in Bolivia is on a plane back to Rome, officials have confirmed.

Cesare Battisti, 64, is wanted for four murders in Italy during the 1970s, which he denies committing.

He was extradited after being found in Santa Cruz de La Sierra in an international police operation.

After escaping from prison in Italy, Battisti lived for years in Brazil but vanished after an arrest warrant was issued last month.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini confirmed that Battisti had been handed over to Italian authorities and a chartered plane had departed from Bolivia.

“The plane carrying Cesare Battisti has just taken off headed for Italy. I am proud and moved,” he tweeted.

Battisti is expected to arrive in Rome on Monday afternoon.

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Cesare Battisti after his arrest in Bolivia

In a message on Facebook ahead of Battisti’s extradition, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said: “We are satisfied with this result that our country has been awaiting for too many years.”

He thanked the Bolivian authorities and singled out Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for his “effective co-operation” that led to Battisti’s capture.

The far-right Brazilian leader, who took office on 1 January, had pledged to extradite Battisti.

How was he arrested?

Battisti was arrested by a special Interpol team on Saturday around 17:00 (21:00 GMT) on a street of the central Bolivian city of Santa Cruz.

He was alone, wearing sunglasses and a fake beard, according to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.

He did not resist or try to escape. Bolivian Interior Minister Carlos Romero said Battisti had entered Bolivia illegally.

Italian police published a video on Twitter that purports to show him moments before his arrest.

Battisti spent years in Brazil as a refugee, with the support of former left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

But Lula’s successor, President Michel Temer, revoked his status as a permanent resident in December, when an arrest warrant was issued.

Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, told AFP last year he would face “torture” and death if he returned to Italy.

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In December, Brazil’s Federal Police had released a picture showing possible disguises that Battisti might use.

Brazilian politician Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president’s sons, tweeted to Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini: “Brazil is no longer a land of bandits. The ‘little gift’ is coming.”

The prison escapee who writes police novels

In 1979, Battisti was convicted of belonging to a far-left terrorist group outlawed in Italy – the Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC). He escaped from prison in 1981.

Later, he was convicted in absentia for killing two Italian law officials, for taking part in a separate murder, and for planning another which left the victim’s 14-year-old son in a wheelchair after a shoot-out.

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Battisti seen leaving prison in Brazil in 2011

Battisti has admitted being part of the PAC but denies responsibility for the murders.

Since his escape, he has gone on to became a successful writer of police novels.

Battisti lived in France and Mexico before escaping to Brazil to avoid being extradited. He was arrested by Brazilian authorities in 2007, prompting the Italian government to request his extradition under an existing bilateral treaty.

But Brazil’s then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva granted Battisti refugee status in 2010, a move that drew strong criticism from Italy.

Battisti was arrested again in 2017 for carrying a large amount of undeclared cash whilst trying to cross into Bolivia from Brazil.

Mr Bolsonaro made his intentions clear in October 2018, tweeting (in Portuguese and Italian): “Here I reaffirm my commitment to extradite the terrorist Cesare Battisti, loved by the Brazilian left…

“We will show the world our total repudiation and commitment to the fight against terrorism. Brazil deserves respect!”

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