An Argentine judge has rejected a French request to extradite former Argentine Naval officer Alfredo Astiz, wanted for his alleged role in the deaths of two nuns during the South American country’s “dirty war”, a news report said.
Judge Alcindo Alvarez Canale denied the request, saying Astiz is already under investigation by Argentine federal prosecutors looking into accusations of torture and other abuses committed during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, according to the ruling, which was obtained by the Diarios y Noticias news agency .
Astiz, who has denied the French accusations, was present in the federal court in the provincial city of Bahia Blanca, about 390 miles south of Buenos Aires, during two days of proceedings that ended yesterday.
Argentina has repeatedly turned down extradition requests for Astiz and other military officials.
In 1990, a French court tried Astiz in absentia and sentenced him to life in prison for the abduction of the two nuns, Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet. Their bodies were found on a beach near Buenos Aires two months after they disappeared in December 1977.
According to papers filed in the French court, Astiz allegedly ordered the abduction of the French nuns, who had befriended anti-government activists.
It was the second time in recent months Astiz has been taken into custody. In July, he was arrested and later released in a separate investigation into military-era abuses.
Rights groups have accused Astiz of heading one of several navy teams charged with kidnapping leftists and other dissidents, who were often tortured and later executed.
Astiz was nicknamed the “Blond Angel of Death” by his victims because of his youth, his heart-stopping good looks, his bright silken hair, and his zeal for kidnapping, torturing and murdering women.
He came to public attention in March 1982 when he led the military commando that attempted to occupy the Georgias islands, south of the Falklands. This was the spark that led a few days later to the Falklands war.
A month later South Georgia was retaken without a single shot being fired and Astiz signed the document surrendering the Georgias on board HMS Plymouth.
He was flown to Britain and held prisoner at the Royal Military Police barracks in Chichester, Sussex.
France and Sweden asked to question him about the murders of the two nuns and the kidnapping of a 17-year-old Swedish girl, but the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher returned him to Buenos Aires before the war ended.
Following Argentina’s dictatorship, many ranking military officers were tried on charges of abduction, torture and execution of suspected opponents of the regime. They were imprisoned in 1985 and pardoned in 1990 by then-President Carlos Menem.
The Argentine legislature in August repealed two major amnesty laws that had long blocked any prosecution of dictatorship-era human rights abuses.
Some 9,000 people were reported dead or missing during the seven-year dictatorship. But human rights groups say as many as 30,000 people perished under a systematic crackdown on political dissent.