Yonathan Arfi is president of Conseil représentatif des institutions juives de France, the representative council of Jewish institutions in France. Richard Marceau is vice-president of external affairs and general counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Oct. 3, 1980, rue Copernic, Paris.
It was a Friday. A Shabbat evening during the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.
A bomb exploded in front of the Union Libérale Israélite de France’s Copernic Synagogue on the street of the same name. The building’s glass roof collapsed on the congregation as one of the doors blew off. Parked cars were tossed into the road, and storefronts 150 metres away were destroyed.
It was the first antisemitic attack in France since the end of the Second World War and the toll was heavy: four dead and 46 injured. Passing by on his motorcycle, Philippe Bouissou was killed instantly. Aliza Shagrir, an Israeli television presenter on vacation in France, was killed while walking on the sidewalk, as was Jean Michel Barbé, the driver of a family who frequented the synagogue. Hilario Lopez Fernandez, the Spanish concierge at the Victor Hugo Hotel, located almost opposite the synagogue, succumbed to his injuries two days later.
The investigation by the examining magistrates attributed the attack, for which “credit” remained unclaimed, to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Operations (PFLP-SO), a splinter group of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. But it would be decades – not until 1999 – before the Direction de la surveillance du territoire (DST) provided the investigating judges with important new information: a suspect.
In Rome, in 1981, a passport had been seized from a presumed member of the PFLP-SO; in it were entry and exit stamps from Spain, the country from which the bomber was thought to have travelled, on dates corresponding with those of the attack.
Using the passport and a sketch of the bomber made from witness accounts, in 1999, the DST was able to identify a Lebanese Canadian living in Canada, Hassan Diab, who they were convinced was the long-sought terrorist who had inflicted so much pain and damage nearly 20 years before.
Arrested in 2008, it was only after several legal appeals to avoid his extradition that he was finally, in 2014, extradited from Canada and imprisoned in France. The case was dismissed in 2018, which led to his release and allowed him to return to Canada. However, the dismissal was overturned in 2021 by the Paris Court of Appeal, which referred the case to the Special Court of Assizes, which rules on the most serious offences.
Last month, 43 years after the attack, the second trial began in Paris. In the defendant’s box, nobody. As was his right, Mr. Diab had opted not to appear at his trial.
After three weeks of pleadings and hearings of the civil parties, and more than seven hours of deliberation in a packed courtroom, the court sentenced Mr. Diab to life imprisonment and issued a warrant for his arrest.
France is a democratic country, offering – under French and European law – protections to any accused person similar to those provided by Canada’s judicial system. Contrary to Mr. Diab’s supporters’ claims, all his rights were, in fact, scrupulously respected.
Jewish organizations in France and Canada immediately welcomed the decision of the French justice system and supported an expected second extradition request. Mr. Diab’s responsibility for the attack on rue Copernic has been determined. He has been found guilty by a respected court of law and must now be held accountable.
As representatives of the Canadian and French Jewish communities, we therefore ask the Canadian government to respect the French judicial decision and any request for Mr. Diab’s extradition, so that he may serve his sentence.
No one has forgotten the attack on the Copernic synagogue.
Decades of waiting have not deterred the surviving victims of the attack, the victims’ families, and the witnesses from their quest for justice. May it now finally be granted.