Middle East studies in the News
One Year After Extradition to France, Ottawa Academic Still Pushes for Freedom [on Hassan Diab]
by Chris Cobb
A year after being extradited to France to face terrorism charges, Ottawa academic Hassan Diab remains in a Paris jail preparing for a major court challenge that could prove key to his efforts to have murder charges against him withdrawn.
The 61-year-old was whisked away to France last November, hours after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal against his extradition.
Diab, a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen, has since been charged by French prosecutors with murder and attempted murder in the 1980 bombing of a synagogue in downtown Paris.
French authorities are still investigating his alleged role in the bombing and have not yet decided whether to commit him for trial.
That decision now lies with recently appointed prosecuting judge Jean-Marc Herbaut, who took over the case in September.
On Nov. 19, Diab's Paris lawyers will appear before a panel of three other judges in an effort to have intelligence evidence in the case withdrawn on the basis that it is unreliable and flawed.
Canadian federal prosecutors, who acted for the French government during Diab's extradition hearing, were forced to withdraw the intelligence because they didn't know its source and couldn't prove that it had not been gleaned from torture.
If the lawyers' bid is successful, prosecutors would be left with several other pieces of evidence, the most important of which is analysis of writing taken from a Paris hotel register.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger ordered Diab's extradition in 2011 after saying that he found the handwriting evidence "illogical, very problematic, convoluted, very confusing with conclusions that are suspect."
Maranger said that if a fair trial were held in Canada, it would be unlikely Diab would be convicted, but the judge added that the low threshold of Canadian extradition law left him with no choice but to hand the academic over to France.
A decision on the Nov. 19 application will take about a month.
Diab, a former University of Ottawa and Carleton University sociology professor, has already been denied bail, principally on the grounds that he is a flight risk and that his release could cause "public disorder."
But he won a minor victory last week when a "Liberties and Detention" judge agreed that there were no grounds to believe that his release would cause "public disorder."
Diab, father of two young children, plans to re-apply for bail.
Four passersby were killed in the Rue Copernic synagogue blast and 40 others injured.
The Paris attack, the first against French Jews since the Second World War, came at the height of terrorist activity by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — an organization the Lebanon-born Diab denies ever belonging to.
He also denies being in France at the time of the explosion and says the French case against him is one of mistaken identity.
Diab is being held in a segregated wing in a large prison outside of Paris where he is allowed computer access and takes various classes, including French language lessons.
His wife, Raina Tfaily, who visited Paris with their two children last month, told the Citizen that her husband is focused on helping prepare his case and studying the French legal system.
"He is in his cell for about 20 hours per day and uses the other four hours to do exercises, promenade with other inmates, visit the library or take various classes," she said.
The Diab file
The bomb: Concealed in a motorcycle saddle. Killed four passersby on the street, injured about 40 inside and outside synagogue. Sent cars and other vehicles shooting skyward
Charges he might face: Four counts of murder, multiple counts of attempted murder, causing damage
Likely sentence if convicted: Life in prison
What he says: 'I am innocent. I was not in France on Oct. 3 1980. I strongly condemn that attack.'
What Diab's extradition judge said about French evidence: '... convoluted, very confusing, with conclusions that are suspect.'
What federal prosecutors said: 'Under the Extradition Act foreign justice systems must be presumed fair.'
Some of the evidence: Five handwritten words on a hotel register, handwriting analysis, a passport, police sketches of suspects, intelligence reports.
French extradition law: France does not extradite its citizens.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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