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Ex-Argentine navy captain denies involvement in abduction of French nuns

Ex-Argentine navy captain denies involvement in abduction of French nuns

A former Argentine navy captain dubbed the "Angel of Death" by human rights groups testified in court for the first time Wednesday, denying he helped abduct two French nuns and suggesting French "undercover agents" played a role in their deaths.
Capt. Alfredo Astiz, 56, is accused in the 1977 disappearance of nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet, along with a dozen other people, including the founder of the human rights group Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Azucena Villaflor.
All were reported held at the former Navy Mechanics' School, the chief clandestine torture center of the 1976-83 military dictatorship, and some were thrown into the ocean from helicopters in Argentina's infamous "death flights."
In all previous court cases, Astiz claimed his constitutional right to not to testify, and this was the first time he appeared in court. He testified to Judge Sergio Torres, who is investigating torture at the Navy Mechanics' School in one of several junta-era human rights cases reactivated when the Supreme Court two years ago annulled a pair of 1980s amnesty laws.
Horacio Carreras, a human rights representative in Argentina's Foreign Ministry, confirmed that Astiz testified for three hours Wednesday but did not provide details. After his testimony, Astiz was taken back to a military base outside the capital where he remains jailed for other cases.
Astiz was tried in absentia in a French court in 1990 and sentenced him to life in prison for the abduction of the two nuns. Argentina hasn't extradited Astiz to France. Its courts historically have refused to extradite suspects wanted in dictatorship-era abuses, particularly when cases are pending against them at home.
In his testimony Wednesday, Astiz declared his "complete and total innocence" in the nuns' disappearance and said the court should investigate the possible involvement by French agents, according to the news agency Diarios y Noticias, which said it obtained a copy of Astiz' statement to the judge.
"It doesn't surprise me that France continues to blame me for all the events that were carried out by its undercover agents," Astiz reportedly said.
Astiz provided no evidence to support his claim that French secret agents were behind the nuns' disappearance. He apparently was referring to a documentary film by journalist Maria Monique Robin that alleged that French military veterans of the war in Algeria trained members of the Argentina military during that nation's "dirty war" against leftists.
The news agency also quoted Astiz as demanding Judge Torres free him immediately and drop him from his broad investigation of abuses at the Navy Mechanics' School.
Torres is investigating accusations of illegal imprisonment, torture and homicide involving at least 438 former prisoners held at the Buenos Aires military school between 1977 and 1978.
Astiz is the latest of several former officers called for questioning by Torres about abuses dating to the 1976-83 military rule.
Nearly 13,000 people are officially listed as missing from that era's state crackdown on leftist dissent known as the dirty war. Human rights groups say the toll is closer to 30,000.
Duquet was abducted Dec. 8, 1977, in what lawyers say was a commando-style operation by state security agents working on behalf of the dictatorship and Domon was taken that same month.
Lawyers for the nuns said they paid with their lives after befriending mothers of illegally detained dissidents. After they were seized in December 1977, the nuns were taken to the Navy School of Mechanics and later disappeared, prosecutors said.
They contend the nuns were seized on information provided by Astiz, saying he infiltrated a group of relatives of victims by claiming to be a brother of one of those who disappeared.
Duquet's body was identified last year through DNA tests after forensic experts exhumed several bodies that washed up on the south Atlantic coast in December 1977 and later found buried in an unmarked grave. Domon's body was never recovered.
Rights groups have accused Astiz of heading one of several navy teams charged with kidnapping accused leftists, who were often tortured and executed.


Updated : 2021-07-30 19:48 GMT+08:00