Trial of admitted Italian Nazi may renew post-war debate

After 18 months of legal wrangling, Priebke was extradited to Italy to stand trial for his involvement in the 1944 massacre of 335 Romans — including 75 Jews, several Roman Catholic priests and three teenagers — at the Ardeatine Caves south of Rome.

The massacre, which was ordered in reprisal for the killing by partisans of 33 German soldiers, is regarded as the worst war crime committed on Italian soil.

Priebke, 82, was accompanied by a group of Italian Interpol agents and medical personnel when he departed Argentina on Monday for an 18-hour flight to a military airport outside Rome.

Heavy security lined the route Tuesday as the former Nazi was whisked away from the airport in a police van to the Forte Boccea military prison.

A preliminary hearing before a military tribunal is set for Dec. 7, when it will be determined whether enough evidence exists to send Priebke to trial, which is expected to start in the spring.

"This is probably going to be the last of the war crimes trials" stemming from World War II, said Shimon Samuels, European director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

The jet carrying Priebke to Rome from his Andean resort home of Bariloche left Argentina on the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

Twelve high-ranking Nazis out of 22 who appeared before the military tribunal were sentenced to death in those trials.

Priebke faces life imprisonment if convicted for the part he played in the wartime massacre in Italy.

He was to have been tried after the war but escaped from a British-run prison camp in northeast Italy in 1946. In 1948, he made his way to Argentina.

In August 1946, he admitted to participating in the massacre, echoing that when interviewed by an ABC-TVNews team in Bariloche last year. "Primetime Live" discovered Priebke living as a respected citizen of Bariloche.

In Italy, Priebke's trial is expected to open up old wounds and lead to new debates during a period of intense political change.

One of the country's leading political parties, the National Alliance, has its roots in a neo-fascist party.