Paris synagogue blast echoes across the years

| October 3, 2010

Thirty years after the terrorist attack that's been dubbed that country's 9/11, France is fighting to extradite an Ottawa academic with alleged links to the case, CHRIS COBB reports.

A narrow central Paris street will be crowded politicians, religious leaders and ordinary citizens today to mark the 30th anniversary of the bombing of a synagogue by a gang of five Palestinian terrorists.

The French allege that one of the five is Hassan Diab, a 56-year-old Ottawa university professor, who denies any involvement and is fighting his extradition to France.

The whereabouts of the other suspects are not known.

The powerful bomb, planted inside the saddlebag of a motorcycle outside the synagogue, killed three passersby on rue Copernic, injured 40 and narrowly missed killing dozens of children who were about to leave the building after a Friday evening service.

Despite extensive damage to the building, nobody inside the synagogue was killed during the incident which some have since described as 'France's 9/11.'

French Prime Minister François Fillon will lead the official French government delegation and former Canadian Justice Minister and Liberal MP Irwin Cotler will deliver the keynote address.

"I remember at the time being moved by the whole Copernic incident," said Cotler in an interview from Paris. "It wasn't just a random or indiscriminate bombing. It targetted a Jewish institution."

Copernic's 30th anniversary also coincides with the 70th anniversary of the French Statute on Jews, which was modeled on Germany's Nuremberg Race Laws, enacted five years earlier.

Both laws stripped Jews of nationality in their own countries and deprived them of basic civil liberties.

"It was the beginning of anti-Semitism on a grand scale," said Cotler, an internationally-renowned human rights lawyer and activist. "I intend to talk about these historic moments and the lessons they have taught us."

Today's memorial will feature three round table discussions led by survivors of the bombing followed by an outdoors ceremony on the street outside the synagogue.

The memorial will end with kaddish, said as part of the mourning rituals in Judaism.

Diab, a Lebanese-born Canadian citizen, was arrested two years ago at the request of the French government, which has applied for his extradition.

The formal extradition hearing is now scheduled for Nov. 8 — almost two years to the day he was arrested — after being delayed by legal arguments and defence-prosecution conflicts over handwriting evidence that allegedly links Diab to the deadly 1980 blast.

Diab's lawyer Donald Bayne has said that before the extradition hearing begins he will try again to have the case thrown out on the basis of French "misconduct" in their efforts to get Diab to Paris.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger, who will decide Diab's fate, had already ruled that there was no abuse of process on behalf of France and has allowed the introduction of new handwriting evidence allegedly linking Diab to the synagogue bombing.

Diab was arrested on Nov. 12, 2008, and spent four and a half months in detention before being released on $250,000 bail on April 1, 2009.

He lives under virtual house arrest, wears a GPS electronic ankle bracelet, and can only leave his home if accompanied by one of his five sureties.

In July 2009, Carleton University hired Diab to teach a summer course, but the job was abruptly terminated after four lectures.

He is now unemployed and paying $18,000 a year for his own monitoring equipment.

Defence lawyer Bayne has tried unsuccessfully to have the bail conditions eased.

The accused terrorist is backed by a group of supporters who claim he is an honest, hard working academic who has never been affiliated with a political organization.

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Category: Synagogue/Jewish Security

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