Thirty years ago, on Oct. 3, 1980, a bomb hidden in a motorcycle’s saddlebag exploded in front of a synagogue on rue Copernic, in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. Four people were killed and more than 30 seriously wounded, many of them maimed for life.
The toll would have been even greater if, as the terrorists had planned, the Friday-night religious service had finished on schedule instead of having been delayed by nearly half an hour. The blast was supposed to happen when the hundreds of people leaving the synagogue would linger on the sidewalk to chat.
The French government tried to put the blame on the extreme right, wanting to maintain good relations with Palestinian organizations. But it didn’t take much time for investigators to discover that those responsible for the attack were from the extreme-left Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was responsible for several attacks against Jews and Israelis in the early 1980.
The investigation lagged for a few years due to the war in Lebanon, which prevented contacts between intelligence services, and, more generally, to what Jean-Louis Bruguière, the prominent French magistrate at the forefront of the anti-terrorism fight, euphemistically called in a recent interview “the weaknesses of judicial co-operation between different countries.”
Two years ago, on Nov. 13, 2008, the RCMP, at the request of French authorities, arrested Hassan Diab, a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen and a sociology lecturer at Carleton University. Mr. Diab, according to the French, bought the motorcycle used in the rue Copernic bombing.
Mr. Diab, 56, says that the French police have confused him with someone else and that he wasn’t even in France at the time of the synagogue bombing. But the French government insists that the case against him is solid and that it wants him back. Last week, at a gloomy event that marked the 30th anniversary of the attack, French Prime Minister François Fillon reiterated his country’s call for the extradition of Mr. Diab.
Mr. Diab, who spent four months in detention, was released on $250,000 bail in March of 2009 under strict conditions (he lives under virtual house arrest and wears a GPS-monitored ankle bracelet). In July of 2009, he was hired to teach a summer course at Carleton, but the job was abruptly terminated.
The extradition process has been under way for more than a year at the Ontario Superior Court. But there have been a number of delays as a result of translation problems and a disagreement over handwriting evidence submitted by the French investigators. The hearing is scheduled to resume on Nov. 8.
If there’s sufficient legal grounds for doing so, Mr. Diab should be extradited as soon as possible. There’s no reason for Canada to show special leniency – there’s no risk of him being mistreated or submitted to an unfair trial, since France’s legal system offers all the guarantees of a democratic country.
It’s a matter of justice for the victims of the attack on rue Copernic that there be at least an honest attempt to identify the perpetrators of this murderous anti-Semitic act.