French court finds Hassan Diab guilty of involvement in 1980 bombing


A French court has found Ottawa academic Hassan Diab guilty in absentia on terrorism charges related to the bombing of a Paris synagogue.

The Ottawa university lecturer, now 69, was accused by authorities of involvement in the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing in Paris, which killed four people and injured more than 40. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Diab’s lawyers say he was in Lebanon at the time of the attack and is a victim of mistaken identity.

The court sentenced Diab to life in prison and issued a warrant for his arrest.

Firemen standing by the wreckage of a car and motorcycle after a bomb attack at a Paris synagogue on October 3, 1980 that killed four people. A Canadian court ruled on June 6, 2011 to extradite accused bomber Hassan Diab to France to face prosecution, but warned the government's case was "weak" and unlikely to result in a conviction.
Firemen standing by the wreckage of a car and motorcycle after a bomb attack at a Paris synagogue on October 3, 1980 that killed four people. (AFP/Getty Images)

Speaking to reporters in Ottawa following the verdict Friday, Diab expressed disappointment and called his situation “Kafkaesque.”

“We hoped reason would prevail,” Diab said.

Diab’s lawyer, Donald Bayne, said the conviction is unjust.

“The evidence shows he’s innocent and yet they’ve convicted him,” Bayne said.

“It’s a political result. It’s a wrongful conviction.”

A man with glasses stands in front of a sign which says "Say no to extradition."
Hassan Diab in Ottawa on Friday April 21. A French court found Diab guilty on Friday in relation to a 1980 bombing of a Paris Synagogue. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Bayne said the next step is to see if France makes a request for extradition.

Reacting to the verdict Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not say what Canada will do in response.

“We will look carefully at next steps, at what the French government chooses to do, at what French tribunals choose to do,” Trudeau told a news conference. 

“But we will always be there to stand up for Canadians and their rights.”

WATCH | ‘We will look carefully at next steps’: Trudeau reacts to Diab verdict

‘We will look carefully at next steps’: Trudeau reacts to Diab verdict

4 days ago

Duration 0:13

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comments on the news Hassan Diab was found guilty in connection with a bombing outside a Paris synagogue more than 40 years ago.

Yonathan Arfi, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF), expressed satisfaction with the verdict.

“After 43 years of judicial wandering, justice is finally served for this deadly antisemitic attack,” Arfi said in a tweet in French.

“Everything must now be done to enforce the international arrest warrant. CRIF calls on Canada to cooperate with French justice.”

Diab was arrested by the RCMP in November 2008 and placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014. He spent more than three years in prison in France before the case against him collapsed.

He was released in January 2018 after two French judges ruled the evidence against him wasn’t strong enough to take to trial. He was never formally charged.

Diab’s release was opposed by more than 20 civil society groups in France — including victims of terrorism groups and pro-Israel organizations.

French prosecutors appealed Diab’s release promptly — but the case moved slowly as prosecutors searched for new evidence against Diab. The court proceedings were also delayed by the pandemic.

In 2021, France’s top court rejected Hassan Diab’s appeal and ordered him to stand trial, indicating that they would try him in absentia if he failed to return to France.

In an interview airing Friday on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Diab maintained his innocence. He said French judges did not adequately consider evidence which should exonerate him.

“[It’s] still devastating to know they pursued that biased road which led to the unfortunate decision,” Diab told host David Cochrane.

“It was not easy on me or on supporters and [my] family in general.”

Diab said he’s ready to face whatever’s next. He pointed to remarks Trudeau made in 2018 about his case, when the prime minister said what happened to Diab should not have happened and should never happen again. Diab called on Trudeau to honour those words.

“That’s the simplest and easiest and shortest thing,” he said. “I can’t ask for more.”

WATCH | Diab reacts to conviction

Hassan Diab reacts after French court finds him guilty of involvement in 1980 synagogue bombing

3 days ago

Duration 12:01

“It’s devastating to know that they pursued a biased road, which led to the unfortunate decision,” says Hassan Diab after a French court found the Lebanese-Canadian academic guilty on charges related to the bombing of a Paris synagogue in 1980 that killed four and wounded 46.

The lawyer who represented Diab in France, William Bourdon, told Power & Politics in a separate interview that he felt as though he had an “impossible mission.”

“We have the feeling that presumption of innocence has been replace by presumption of guiltiness,” Bourdon said.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister David Lametti said his office will review the written decision when it’s released.

“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any potential requests for extradition for Dr. Diab to France,” the spokesperson said in an email statement.

“Extradition requests are confidential state-to-state communications, so we cannot comment on the existence of any request until it is made public by the courts.”

NDP justice critic Randall Garrison said the government should deny any new request to extradite Diab.

“The horrible conditions Dr. Diab suffered over flimsy and discredited evidence violated his rights and poisoned the process. Given that no justice has been served, New Democrats are demanding the government block any attempts by France to extradite Dr. Diab,” Garrison said in a statement.

The handwriting evidence

The key physical evidence Canada relied on in extraditing Diab to France was handwriting analysis linking Diab’s handwriting to that of the suspected bomber. Canadian government lawyers acting on France’s behalf called it a “smoking gun” in the extradition hearing.

But in 2009, Diab’s legal team produced contrary reports from four international handwriting experts. These experts questioned the methods and conclusions of the French experts. They also proved that some of the handwriting samples used by the French analysts belonged not to Diab but to his ex-wife.

French investigative judges dismissed the handwriting evidence as unreliable when they ordered Diab’s release in January 2018.

While considering the appeal of Diab’s release, another French judge ordered an independent review of the contentious handwriting evidence.

Fingerprint evidence led to release

Diab’s lawyers said this latest review delivered “a scathing critique and rebuke” of the original handwriting analysis “that mirror[s] the critique by the defence during the extradition hearing 10 years ago.”

The French investigative judges who released Diab also found he had an alibi for the day of the Paris bombing. Using university records and interviews with Diab’s classmates, the investigative judges determined he was “probably in Lebanon” writing exams when the bombing outside the synagogue took place.

“It is likely that Hassan Diab was in Lebanon during September and October 1980 … and it is therefore unlikely that he is the man … who then laid the bomb on Rue Copernic on October 3rd, 1980,” they wrote.

In 2018, CBC News confirmed that France was aware of — and had failed to disclose — fingerprint evidence that ended up playing a critical role in Diab’s release.

Survivors of the attack and victims’ families attended the first day of proceedings in Paris earlier this month. At those proceedings, prosecutor Benjamin Chambre called Diab’s absence proof of “great cowardice in his behaviour.”

“It’s a grave abomination for justice and for the victims 43 years after the events,” Chambre added.

A photograph of lawyer Donald Bayne
Diab’s Canadian lawyer Don Bayne has argued the case against his client is based on “argument, hypothesis, conjecture.’ (Jean Delisle/CBC)

In a statement issued by the Hassan Diab Support Committee, Donald Bayne, Diab’s Canadian lawyer, said the case against his client is “replete with seemingly disconnected information.”

The case against Diab, Bayne said, contains “a great deal of argument, hypothesis, conjecture and references to information received, without describing the source of that information or the circumstances upon which it was received.”

Amnesty International last month described the case against Diab as “baseless and flawed” and said pursuing Diab directly undermined justice for victims of the synagogue attack.

“Amnesty International is calling on the French Public Prosecutor for Anti-Terrorism to drop the groundless charges against Dr. Hassan Diab,” the group said in a media statement.

Since his release, Diab has been living with his wife and two children in Ottawa. He has resumed work as a part-time lecturer.

France likely to seek extradition: law prof

Robert Currie, a professor at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, said the French government likely will try to extradite Diab.

“They are clearly under a great deal of stress and pressure to be seen to be doing something about the Rue Copernic bombing in 1980, which was tragic,” he said. Currie has been supportive of Diab in the case.

France can request extradition through the extradition treaty between Canada and France.

The French government may even request that Canadian authorities conduct a provisional arrest of Diab while they prepare a formal extradition request, Currie said. 

But several factors in Diab’s case would make such a request unusual, Currie added.

“The idea of a second extradition request is quite surprising generally,” he said.

“And it is shocking in this case, given that Dr. Diab was released by the French courts several years ago because they didn’t have enough evidence, they felt, to convict him, and the evidence hasn’t improved over that time.”

A man in a black shirt and glasses stands on a street.
Robert Currie, a law professor at Dalhousie University, said he expects France will seek the extradition of Hassan Diab, but he said Canada could refuse the request. (CBC)

Currie said the extradition process usually takes 18 months to two years, but the complexity of Diab’s case means it could take longer.

He said the high-profile nature of the case in Canada and France could threaten the confidentiality of extradition talks between countries — and even threaten diplomatic relations between the two countries.

“[With] this case, there’s no chance of anything happening quietly,” Currie said.

“There may very well be political fallout between Canada and France if Canada were to refuse the extradition request.”

Lametti could refuse to extradite Diab under Canada’s Extradition Act. Even if the federal government agrees to an extradition, the minister has the power to bring the proceedings to a halt and discharge Diab, Currie said.

Diab’s case isn’t the first time extradition has been an issue between Canada and France, Currie said. He pointed to the French government’s refusal to extradite Johannes Rivoire, a priest facing sexual assault charges in Nunavut.

“In my view, Canada would be within its rights, given the history of [Diab’s] case, to suspend the Canada-France extradition treaty altogether,” Currie said.

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