ROME (AP) _ Hundreds of supporters greeted an Italian returning to Rome today to serve her sentence for helping plan armed robberies to finance leftist terrorists in the United States.

The Italian government provided a private Falcon 900 jet to bring Silvia Baraldini to Rome, and the minister of justice personally escorted her mother to Ciampino airport to greet her.

The now silver-haired Baraldini, who had complained that U.S. prison officials put her in chains, walked off the plane unrestrained, clad in dark slacks, a white blouse and dark jacket rather than a prison uniform.

At Rebibbia prison, cries of ``Freedom!'' went up from a crowd of hundreds of well-wishers who'd waited hours to give Baraldini a hero's welcome. Champagne corks popped, and many of her supporters wore T-shirts emblazoned with her picture or carried banners reading ``Welcome back, Silvia.''

Premier Massimo D'Alema's center-left coalition government worked doggedly to persuade the United States to allow Baraldini to serve the last nine years of her sentence in Rome.

``These are moments of happiness,'' Justice Minister Oliviero Diliberto said Tuesday.

Several Italian cities and towns, from Palermo to the resort island of Ischia, have offered Baraldini honorary citizenship, calling her a symbol of injustice.

However, the conservative opposition was outraged at the warm welcome extended to Baraldini by the government.

``Couldn't she have taken a regular commercial flight?'' snapped former Christian Democrat Giuseppe Brienza, who demanded taxpayers be told the cost of the private flight.

Gustavo Selva of the right-wing National Alliance party rejected the government's contention that the flight was needed for security reasons.

A colleague from the National Alliance, Franco Pontone, branded as ``shameful'' the ``red carpet laid out for a terrorist.''

Diliberto denied accusations that Baraldini was permitted to return home to ease anger over the acquittal of an American military pilot whose plane sliced through a ski gondola cable in 1998, killing 20 people at an Italian ski resort.

``There was no exchange, no barter,'' Italy's justice minister said.

The U.S. Justice Department said Baraldini was permitted to return to Italy only after that country guaranteed she would serve the remaining nine years of her sentence. Baraldini has served 16 years on conspiracy and racketeering charges. She is scheduled for mandatory release in 2008.

Authorities say she participated in a string of 16 robberies and attempted robberies that included the 1981 holdup of a Brinks truck near Nyack, N.Y. A guard and two police officers were killed.

She was also convicted of kidnapping prison guards during the 1979 escape of a Black Liberation Army leader who was serving a life sentence for killing a New Jersey state trooper.

Baraldini became a cause celebre for Italian communists and other leftists, with supporters holding rallies in Italy and the United States since she was convicted in 1983.

Baraldini had long sought a return to Rome to be near her elderly mother. She began life in the United States at age 11, the daughter of a diplomat.