Professor and exonerated terrorism suspect Hassan Diab is once again under threat of extradition from Canada to face trial in France. This is despite the fact that his last extradition resulted in Diab being held for three years in almost solitary confinement while French authorities searched for evidence to convict him, before being cleared of charges and released in 2018. Regardless of that previous verdict, France’s highest court issued a ruling in May that the prosecution team can continue its case against Diab, raising the possibility that Canada may comply once again with the French authorities and send Diab to France to face charges.
Diab, a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen, is accused of setting a bomb in a synagogue in Paris on October 3, 1980, killing four people and injuring 46. Diab was not considered a suspect in the case until the late 1990s, when intelligence was presented to the French government. It is believed that this evidence came from either East German or Israeli sources; however, French authorities have produced nothing that shows he planted the bomb, or was even in Paris at the time. “There is not a scrap of evidence that shows he is guilty, and there is a lot of evidence that shows he is innocent,” said Roger Clark from the Hassan Diab Support Committee.
This was also the conclusion reached by two French anti-terrorism judges, who cleared him of the charges and ordered him released from prison in 2018, after which he returned home to Canada. Clark points to the strong likelihood that Diab was actually in Beirut finishing his university exams in the fall of 1980, including eyewitness testimony from many of his classmates. Furthermore, fingerprints left in the room of the bomber in Paris do not match Diab’s, and the handwriting samples that were initially used to attach Diab to the crime were so dubious that they were discarded as evidence even by the prosecution. Moreover, French authorities initially said that the bomber was Palestinian. But Diab is not Palestinian and, in fact, has never even been to Palestine.
Canadian authorities were heavily criticized for helping France in Diab’s initial extradition. The International Assistance Group in the Canadian government gave extraordinary help to the French authorities pursuing his extradition and obtained a series of court delays, giving France time to come up with more evidence to support his removal. Canadian authorities even acknowledged at the time that the probability of Diab being found guilty was low, because the evidence against him was flimsy. “The Canadian Extradition Act is very defective,” said Clark. “There is really no protection like one would expect from a court of law, witnesses cannot be called, evidence cannot be challenged.”
This lack of protection is very worrying to Diab supporters, considering the French court’s decision to ignore French anti-terrorism judges who previously ordered his release and to allow the prosecution to continue their case against him.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau previously stated that what happened to Diab should have never happened. Upon hearing of the latest development, however, Trudeau issued a new statement saying that if given an extradition request the Canadian government would “analyze it with the full rigor that Canadians expect us to.” This has led many to worry that the Canadian government will once again help France with their crusade against Diab.
It is unclear why French authorities continue to pursue this case even though they themselves have expressed doubt about Diab’s guilt, but it may be due to pressure from groups lobbying on behalf of the bombing victims and their families. Monia Mazigh, whose husband was involved in a similar situation in 2002 (which led to his torture in a Syrian prison), believes that this continued pursuit of Diab despite the lack of evidence is just a continuation of the “War on Terror” policy paradigm and the Islamophobia that fueled it. “I call it a legal vendetta,” said Mazigh, “because there is a difference between pursuing justice and [just] finding someone and putting them in prison at any cost.”
Mazigh believes that Canada has a duty to step in and stop France’s zealous prosecution of Diab. She points to the current heightened Islamophobia in France as a driving force behind the Diab prosecution and believes that the Canadian government has an obligation to combat this bigotry. “This is ongoing and this should stop, and Canada has a role,” said Mazigh. “It’s not about interference, it’s about the protection of its own citizen.”
Clark agrees, and calls the continued lobbying efforts by groups affiliated with the Israeli government to have Diab extradited concerning. “Canada is afraid of offending a traditional ally, France… and both Canada and France are afraid of offending Israel,” said Clark.
Diab does not intend to return to France to face the charges against him, because he believes that the French legal system has not shown that it can be impartial in his case. Diab supporters have asked people to contact Trudeau and other Canadian officials and demand that they not proceed with any possible extradition request. There is also a movement to have Canada change their extradition process with France in light of its behavior regarding Diab. “Canada should suspend any further extradition process with France, because the French legal system cannot be trusted,” said Clark.