France Moves U.S. Fugitive to Regional Prison

An American fugitive wanted in the 1998 slaying of a Buffalo abortion doctor was being transferred Friday to a prison in the Breton capital of Rennes.

James Kopp, 46, was arrested Thursday in Dinan, a small tourist town on France's northwest coast, following a two-year international manhunt.

Kopp became one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives after Dr. Barnett Slepian was killed in front of his home by a sniper's bullet. He is also wanted by Canadian authorities for allegedly wounding an abortion doctor there in 1995.

Judicial sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Kopp would be transferred to a Rennes prison on Friday. Authorities will then await a formal extradition request from the United States, they said.

One of the federal charges Kopp faces carries a potential death penalty.

France, which abolished capital punishment in 1981, does not extradite foreign nationals based on trials in absentia or if they could face the death penalty for the crime they are charged with.

France agreed to extradite former anti-war activist Ira Einhorn to the United States, where he was convicted in absentia of murdering his girlfriend, in December — more than three years after he was found in France. He faces life in prison.

On Friday, President Jacques Chirac, speaking at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, called for the "universal abolition of the death penalty with a first step being a general moratorium."

The United States has 40 days to file an extradition request, which would be heard by three Rennes judges. FBI Director Louis Freeh acknowledged that Kopp's extradition would be a long process.

"We have an extradition treaty with France. There are a lot of restrictions in the treaty with respect to the penalty," Freeh said in Washington.

French police were tight-lipped about the circumstances of Kopp's arrest. The judicial sources said he was arrested at 4:25 p.m. while picking up a package from the Dinan post office.

Dinan, a pleasure port, is near one of France's most popular tourist sites, the medieval religious complex of the Mont Saint Michel.

In the United States, FBI agent Joel Mercer said Kopp was preparing to pick up a package from New York containing $300. He had arrived from Ireland, where he spent about a year, less than three weeks earlier.

Kopp, of St. Albans, Vt., left Ireland March 12, according to the FBI, but it was unclear when he arrived in France where police had followed him for several days.

Kopp was about to leave France when he was caught, FBI Director Freeh said.

"Going back several weeks we had some very strong leads," Freeh said, when asked how long the FBI knew Kopp was in France.

"Our investigation determined that he was about to leave France. Had he left, it would have further complicated" the investigation.

Two people who provided assistance to Kopp were arrested in the United States, according to federal authorities in New York.