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A Canadian Professor Accused of a 1980 Paris Synagogue Bombing Has Been Extradited to France

The suspect, Hassan Diab, continues to deny any involvement in the bombing that killed four and wounded 40 outside a Paris synagogue.

by Etienne Rouillon
Nov 15 2014, 12:02am

Image via Reuters

For the last six years, Hassan Diab has insisted that he is not Hassan Diab. The Canadian sociology professor claims he is being mistaken for another man with the same name — the man accused of carrying out a deadly 1980 bombing outside of a Paris synagogue. But on Thursday, despite these claims, Canadian courts refused to hear Diab's appeal on his extradition to France for the violent act and by Friday morning the Ottawa academic was on a flight across the Atlantic.

In a statement published shortly after the Canadian supreme court's ruling, Diab said he is "deeply shocked" by the court's decision, and claims to have been living "a Kafkaesque nightmare for over six years."

The deadly attacks for which Diab is wanted occurred more than 30 years ago, when a bomb went off outside the Copernic synagogue in Paris. Four teenagers were celebrating their bar-mitzvahs that day, and the synagogue was packed. The bomb was hidden inside the saddlebag of a motorcycle parked on the sidewalk and exploded during the ceremony, killing four and wounding 40. None of the victims — a motorcyclist, a concierge, a pedestrian, and a journalist — had any connection with the synagogue. According to detectives in charge of the investigation, the bomb had been set to go off a few minutes later, when a crowd of people would be leaving the synagogue.

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French authorities initially pointed the finger at the extreme right — one of the many underground movements that was disrupting French society at the time. Europe was just entering the final phase of its "years of lead," a period marked by two decades of violent political activism and "false flag" attacks, specifically engineered to hide the real organization behind them. But the investigation eventually turned to a splinter branch of the Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine (PFLP-OS), a political and terrorist organization.

The case was reopened in 2007 by Marc Trévidic, a leading French judge who specializes in anti-terror investigations, and has led several high-profile enquiries in the last decade. Using the information gathered by investigators at the time of the bombing, such as handwriting samples, Trévidic was able to identify a suspect.

Working back from the crime scene in 1980, investigators were able to track down the dealer who sold the motorcycle used in the attack. They were also able to confirm that the bomber had been using a forged Cypriot passport, and was going by the name "Alexandre Panadriyu." A prostitute who had spent the night with "Panadriyu" at his hotel gave a description that matched facial composites made from eyewitness records. An analysis of the suspect's handwriting and shared intelligence between Europe's various secret services —including access to German files on the FPLP-OS—eventually led to Diab.

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On November 13, 2008, Canadian police arrested Diab following a request by French authorities. Since his initial arrest, Diab has continued to deny any involvement in the attacks, and claims that France has got hold of the wrong Hassan Diab — a name that he argues is particularly common in his community.

Diab, who is 54 and teaches Lebanese-Canadian sociology at the University of Ottawa, was release in 2009 under strict court supervision. Canada and France continued to argue his case until 2011, when Canadian courts finally authorized the extradition, despite what they considered to be a weak case against the suspect. 

Follow Etienne Rouillon on Twitter: @rouillonetienne