The Blog

Cesare Battisti: A Terrorist’s Path to Freedom

3:00 PM, Jun 17, 2011 • By JOHN ROSENTHAL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

“In the meanwhile, Cesare Battisti should not be extradited,” Strauss-Kahn concluded.  Alluding to the imminent 2007 French presidential elections and the candidacy of then French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, he added, “In the current context of the presidential elections, I cannot help thinking that there is a certain political calculation involved in this operation.” It should be noted that once in office, Sarkozy would himself prevent the extradition to Italy of another “reformed” terrorist and convicted murderer: the former Red Brigade member Marina Petrella. He thus, in effect, reinstated the “Mitterrand doctrine.”

The Brazilian president Lula waited until December 31, 2010, the very last day of his presidency, to announce his decision: Battisti would not be extradited. The purely political nature of the decision could hardly have been more flagrant. As the French left-wing daily Libération has noted, Lula “did not even bother to keep up appearances.” Despite the existence of an extradition treaty between Italy and Brazil, he justified his choice by citing fears that Battisti could suffer “persecution or discrimination” in his homeland. The argument had already been rejected by the Brazilian supreme court in denying Battisti refugee status.

But the Battisti case is not only of interest for the remarkable indulgence toward a convicted terrorist displayed by the left-wing establishments in both France and Brazil. It is also of interest for strictly practical reasons related to the recent arrest and pending trial of Dominique Strauss-Kahn in New York. As noted above, in February 2004 Battisti was arrested in Paris. Sometime in August, after a French court gave a favorable ruling on the Italian extradition request, he fled the country. What happened in the meanwhile to make his flight possible?

Well, on March 4, barely three weeks after his arrest, the very same French court decided that Battisti had given “adequate guarantees” that he would return to court and ordered him released under conditions reminiscent of those from which Strauss-Kahn is now benefitting while he awaits trial in New York. “I find what is happening to me inconceivable,” Battisti pleaded before the court in a March 4 hearing. “I don’t understand. I have never tried to flee French justice, nor have any of us. Everything that is happening to me is absurd….” The court apparently sympathized. Battisti was required to check in with the police once a week.

But just in case his assurances were not to be trusted, after all, he was also placed under surveillance. A single employee of a private security firm paid by the accused is supposed to keep watch on Dominique Strauss-Kahn. By contrast, a whole team of French police specialists monitored Battisti’s movements. According to police documents obtained by the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, his phone was also tapped.  Nonetheless, per the reconstruction of Le Nouvel Observateur, on Tuesday, August 17, Cesare Battisti walked into a Parisian subway station and slipped the French police surveillance team for good.

More troublingly still, if Battisti’s own account is to be believed, French authorities sympathetic to his cause actually helped arrange his escape. “There was a great popular and intellectual movement in my favor,” Battisti recalled in an interview that he gave to the Brazilian magazine ISTOÉ in early 2009, “At the time, there were also members of the government, whose names I can’t cite, that mobilized to help us, the Italian refugees. They had trouble accepting that France would go back on its word.” According to Battisti, it was a French intelligence officer who recommended that he flee to Brazil and who provided him a fake passport to facilitate his travel.

John Rosenthal writes on European politics and transatlantic security issues. You can follow his work on Facebookhere or at www.trans-int.com.

Recent Blog Posts