Brazil's president granted political asylum to Italian fugitive Cesare Battisti on Friday _ but the case must still be heard by the nation's Supreme Court, the top justice said.
A statement released by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's office said the decision in favor of Battisti was made taking into consideration a section of Brazil's extradition treaty that allows the government to consider the petitioner's "personal condition."
The statement did not elaborate, and Battisti's lawyers did not immediately respond to telephone calls.
The legality of the decision must still be weighed by the Brazilian Supreme Court, according to a court official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not allowed to discuss the case.
Battisti has been jailed in the capital, Brasilia, since 2007 and will remain in custody until the Supreme Court makes a final decision, the spokeswoman said.
Italian officials have insisted that Battisti be extradited to face punishment for his alleged crimes.
On Thursday, the office of Premier Silvio Berlusconi released a statement saying that to not extradite "the multi-murderer" would be "incomprehensible and unacceptable."
"In that case, President Lula would have to explain the choice not only to the government, but to all Italians and in particular to the family of the victims," the premier's office said in a statement.
Whatever reasons Silva cites for his decision must be allowed under the extradition treaty between Brazil and Italy, the court's top justice, Cezar Peluso, was quoted by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper as saying before the president released his decision.
"The Supreme Court will analyze the arguments used by him," Peluso said, according to the story posted on Folha's website Friday.
While Peluso has the power to approve any asylum order on his own, he was quoted by Folha as saying he would allow the case to be heard by the full court, which is in recess until February.
Battisti escaped from an Italian prison in 1981 while awaiting trial on four counts of murder allegedly committed in the late 1970s when he was a member of the far-left Armed Proletarians for Communism. In 1990, he was convicted in absentia and sentenced to life in prison. Italy's high court upheld the conviction in 1993.
Battisti, who claims he is innocent and that the Italian government is persecuting him for his leftist roots, lived in Mexico before moving to France in 1990 and reinventing himself as a mystery writer. He lived there for more than a decade until France changed its tacit policy of allowing Italian militants to remain in the country if they renounced their militant ways.
In 2004, Battisti fled to Brazil after France signed an extradition order that would have sent him back to Italy. He was arrested in Brazil in 2007 on an Interpol warrant.
He reiterated his claim of innocence in a book published in France in 2006.
"I am guilty, as I have often said, of having participated in an armed group with a subversive aim and of having carried weapons. But I never shot anyone," he wrote in "Ma Cavale" ("My Escape").
Battisti's case has been sharply debated within Brazil.
After his 2007 arrest, the Justice Ministry's National Committee for Refugees recommended extradition, a decision that then-Brazilian Justice Minister Tarso Genro overturned last year based on Battisti's fear of persecution if he is extradited to Italy.
Genro claimed that Battisti's convictions in absentia were flawed, having taken place at a time when Italy was trying to show it was cracking down on terrorism.
"I would say that when Mr. Battisti was tried in Italy, the decision was probably appropriate given the historical circumstances of that country," Genro said last year. "Today, any judge would absolve Mr. Battisti for insufficient proof."
The case passed last year from Genro to the Supreme Court, which ruled that while there was no legal reason Battisti could not be extradited, the final decision rested with Silva.
The court subsequently ruled, however, that Silva's decision must be legally supported and accepted under the extradition treaty.
Associated Press writers Marco Sibaja in Brasilia, Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo, and Colleen Barry in Milan, Italy, contributed to this report.