ROME - Former communist militant Cesare Battisti has admitted four murders carried out in the 1970s, weeks after being jailed in Italy for the killings that were part of a failed bid to spark a far-left revolution.
Battisti, 64, admitted all the charges brought against him in four murder cases during Italy's so-called "Years of Lead," Milan prosecutor Alberto Nobili was quoted as saying by Italian media on Monday.
He also admitted that armed revolution was wrong, Nobili said.
Nobili, who questioned Battisti at a high-security prison in Sardinia for nine hours over the weekend, said it had "felt like I was watching the liberation of someone who was initially embarrassed, troubled."
Nobili quoted Battisti as saying: "I realize the wrong I have done and apologize to the families."
Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told journalists he now expected "these pseudo-intellectuals on the left who for years cuddled this murderer also to apologize."
Jailed in 1979 for belonging to an armed revolutionary group outlawed in Italy, Battisti escaped from prison two years later and spent nearly four decades on the run.
An international police operation eventually tracked him down and arrested him in Bolivia in January, before he was extradited to Italy.
Battisti was sentenced in absentia to life for having killed a policeman and a prison guard; for taking part in the murder of a butcher who was also a far-right militant; and for helping plan the slaying of a jeweler, who died in a shootout that left his teenage son in a wheelchair.
Apologies 'out of place'
The murdered policeman's brother Maurizio Campagna said "apologies now seem out of place".
"I think his lawyer is advising him so he can have his sentence reduced," Campagna told Italy's Sky TG24 television.
Battisti is serving his sentence in a Sardinian prison housing more than 250 convicts, many of them living under the tough "41-bis" prison regime usually applied to Mafia members.
His lawyer Davide Steccanella said the statements weren't made "for possible benefits, the hope was to give [my] client back a fair image, not that of someone who could strike again, as he has been described."
Battisti admitted the killings "little by little ... not as a flood," Nobili said.
"The armed struggle prevented the development of a cultural, social and political revolution which, from the events of '68, would have been absolutely positive," Nobili quoted Battisti as saying.
After his jailbreak, Battisti had reinvented himself as an author, writing a string of noir novels.
In 2004, he skipped bail in France where, like many other far-left Italian militants, he had taken refuge. He then went to live clandestinely in Brazil until he was arrested in 2007 in Rio de Janeiro.
After years in custody, then-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva issued a decree — later upheld by Brazil's Supreme Court — in 2010 refusing Battisti's extradition to Italy, and he was freed, angering Rome.
But earlier this year, Battisti was seized without a struggle in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in an operation carried out by a joint team of Italian and Bolivian officers.
Years of Lead
Until now, he had admitted to being part of the Armed Proletarians for Communism, a radical group that staged a string of robberies and attacks, but always rejected responsibility for any deaths, painting himself as a political refugee.
Italy's Years of Lead was a decade of violence which began in the late 1960s and saw dozens of deadly attacks by hardline leftwing and rightwing groups.
During his election campaign, Brazil's far-right President Jair Bolsonaro vowed that if elected he would "immediately" send Battisti back to Italy.
Battisti, who has a five-year-old Brazilian son, in 2017 told AFP he would face "torture" and death if he were ever to be sent back to Italy.
Italian authorities are still hunting 30 "terrorists" on the run abroad, 27 from the left and three from the right.
Fourteen of those being sought are believed to be in France.