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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ex-Nazi Jailed After Acquittal, Riot

ROME -- Former Nazi SS captain Erich Priebke was under arrest on Friday at the same jail where victims of Italy's worst World War II atrocity spent their final hours as Germany said it would seek his extradition for a fresh war crimes trial.


The 83-year-old German was taken to Rome's Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven) jail after Italy erupted in anger at a military court verdict Thursday that he could no longer be punished for his role in the 1944 killing of 335 men and boys, 75 of them Jews.


Priebke had admitted personally killing two of the victims in the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome, carried out in reprisal for a partisan bomb attack on German soldiers, but claimed he was only following orders. Italy tried Priebke in a military rather than a civil court on the grounds that he was a soldier at the time of the SS massacre.


His re-arrest at the courtroom in the dead of night resolved a dramatic eight-hour stand-off in which hundreds of young protesters, incensed at the outcome of the three-month trial, laid siege to the building and scuffled with police.


The court's presiding judge, Agostino Quistelli, who had faced two challenges to his impartiality during the trial, said Friday the court had found Priebke guilty of multiple homicide but had taken account of his age and clean record since World War II in mitigation.


He said the court rejected defense arguments that Priebke would have been killed himself had he not followed orders.


Quistelli said it found, however, that Priebke had not acted with premeditation and cruelty, a distinction which allowed application of a statute of limitation in the Italian military penal code barring punishment of the crime after 30 years.


In Bonn, Justice Ministry spokesman Bernhard Boehm said Priebke had been re-arrested in response to a request from German prosecutors as preparation for his extradition.


"I expect the German government to apply for Priebke's extradition from Italy," Boehm said.


Bonn now has 40 days in which to submit its case while Italy must also seek leave from Argentina to proceed with extradition.


Argentina, where Priebke had lived openly since 1948, agreed to hand him to Italy in November 1995 only on condition that no other countries would later demand his extradition.


It said on Thursday that Argentina would not allow him back in to rejoin his wife Alicia in the Andean ski resort of Bariloche "at the express request of President Carlos Menem."


Thursday night's court ruling declaring Priebke a free man unleashed a flood of indignation in Italy, uniting politicians across the spectrum in a outpouring of condemnation.


Some of the victims of the March 24, 1944, massacre were rounded up from Regina Coeli, a grim and dilapidated prison on the banks of the Tiber, and others from Gestapo headquarters and the streets of Rome's Jewish quarter, still known as "The Ghetto."


Italian Jews and relations of victims met President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro on Friday to express their outrage at the verdict. Scalfaro himself had addressed the nation Thursday to voice his grief.


"The court was not morally and politically mature enough to know that the world was watching," Tullia Zevi, president of the Italian Jewish communities, said after the meeting. She later called on Pope John Paul II to make a strong statement on the need to remember the Nazi era.


"It would be in the Roman Catholic Church's interest to be as determined as possible in condemning the past and attacking the dangers threatening our present," said Zevi. "We have been waiting 50 years for the church to issue a firm condemnation and we hope it will come soon."


Veteran Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal also criticized the ruling as calls mounted for military tribunals to be abolished in Italy.


Italy's Democratic Party of the Left, the largest force in the center-left Olive Tree coalition government, said military tribunals should be abolished in peacetime, and presented parliament with a draft law to that effect.