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A French appeals court on Wednesday turned down Italy's request to extradite 10 former members of left-wing Italian extremist groups exiled in France for their involvement in violence decades ago.
The ultra-leftist Red Brigades and other armed groups sowed chaos during the period in Italy known as the "Years of Lead" -- referring to the amount of bullets fired -- from the late 1960s to mid-1980s.
The violence left 360 dead and thousands injured.
The court based its decision at least partly on respect of private and family life, said the court's chief judge.
Most of the 10, aged 61 to 78, have been living in France for decades and during the hearings insisted on their links to France and slammed Italy's "persecution".
The ruling was greeted with relief by the former members, who fell into the arms of relatives and loved ones in the courtroom.
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"I'm really pleased for my client," said lawyer Jean-Louis Chalanset, who represents former Red Brigades member Enzo Calvitti. "I was scared he would finish his days in prison."
France has long served as a haven for Red Brigades figures under a policy set by former Socialist president Francois Mitterrand, who offered them protection from extradition on the condition that they renounced violence and had not been accused of bloodshed.
But last year President Emmanuel Macron gave his green light for the detention and potential extradition of 10 sentenced former members of the Red Brigades or other armed groups, in a bid to remove a long-standing irritant in Franco-Italian ties.
'Death penalty in disguise'
"Sending me at 70 to die in prison would be a punishment from the dark ages," said former Red Brigades member Marina Petrella, 67, before the ruling.
She said the procedures were "traumatic" for her two daughters and grandson after 30 years in France where she worked as a social worker.
"My life is in your hands, because if I go back to Italy, I will die in an Italian prison," said Narciso Manenti, 64, who has spent the last 40 years in France, also before the ruling.
The cases of the eight men and two women all differ. Some have been sentenced in Italy in their absence, while others have spent some time in Italian prisons while others have avoided time behind bars.
"In light of the age of these people, accepting extradition is a death penalty in disguise," said Irene Terrel, lawyer for seven former members, in the run-up to the ruling.
But many in Italy believe the 10 should face the Italian judiciary.
The 1970s in Italy was marked by violent social uprisings. Far-right groups carried out random terror attacks in public areas to maintain a "strategy of tension" in a bid to force the emergence of an authoritarian regime.
Meanwhile ultra-leftist revolutionary groups carried targeted assassinations against union members, magistrates, journalists, police officers and politicians.
The Red Brigades were the most notorious on the left and were blamed for hundreds of murders, including the kidnapping and killing of Christian Democrat leader and former premier Aldo Moro in 1978.
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