RIO DE JANEIRO – A 64-year-old Italian left-wing activist and crime writer who had been on the run since the 1970s from his native country where he had been convicted of four terrorist murders has been arrested in Bolivia, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said on Sunday.
Cesare Battisti was nabbed by police working in tandem with Italian and Brazilian agents in the central Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra to where he had fled to from Brazil, where he had been living, Brazilian and Italian authorities said.
“Congratulations to those responsible for capturing the terrorist Cesare Battisti!” Bolsonaro said on his official Twitter account. “Finally justice will be served to the Italian assassin and ideological companion of one of the most corrupt governments that has ever existed.”
Filipe Martins, one of Bolsonaro’s senior advisers, had previously confirmed the capture.
“The Italian terrorist Cesare Battisti was arrested in Bolivia,” Martins said on his official Twitter account.
Martins added that Battisti would “soon be brought to Brazil, from where he will probably be taken to Italy so that he can fulfill a life sentence, according to the decision of Italian justice.”
Battisti, who was walking down a street when he was challenged, answered in Portuguese and showed the agents his Brazilian identity document.
He had spent years living in Brazil as a refugee with the support of former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but Italian authorities “never lost sight of him” and steps were taken to ensure his arrest as soon as he traveled out of Brazil, Italy’s interior ministry said.
Far-right President Bolsonaro, who took office on Jan. 1, had vowed to extradite Battisti back to Italy.
“Brazil is no longer a land of bandits. The ‘little gift’ is coming,” Eduardo Bolsonaro, one of the president’s sons and a lawmaker in the regional parliament of the federal state of São Paulo, said to Italy’s Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini in a Twitter message.
Battisti was convicted of belonging to Italy’s outlawed far-left terrorist group the Proletarios Armados por el Comunismo, or the Armed Proletarians for Communism (PAC), an arm of the Red Brigades, in 1979 but he escaped from jail four years later.
He was subsequently convicted in absentia of killing two Italian law enforcement agents, participating in another murder and of taking part in the planning of another killing which also left the victim’s 14-year-old son wheelchair-bound after a gun battle.
Battisti had acknowledged forming part of PAC but denied the murders.
Brazil’s former President Michel Temer revoked Battisti’s status as a permanent resident in December and an arrest warrant was issued.
While living in exile, Battisti became a published crime writer.