Canadian academic Hassan Diab ordered to stand trial in French terrorism case

France's top court has rejected Hassan Diab's appeal and ordered the Ottawa academic to stand trial for a bombing outside of a Jewish synagogue 40 years ago.

Lower court ruled Diab must stand trial in bombing case 3 years after being set free due to lack of evidence

Hassan Diab looks for a press conference on the French Court of Appeal's decision in his case on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018.
Hassan Diab arrives for a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

France's top court has rejected Hassan Diab's appeal and ordered the Ottawa academic to stand trial for a bombing outside of a Paris synagogue 40 years ago.

Diab's family and his lawyers confirmed that France's court of cassation rejected their appeal in a written decision this morning. 

"We are very disappointed, of course. This is a hard turnout," said Amélie Lefebvre, one of Diab's French lawyers. "But we remain confident that Hassan's innocence will be recognized."

In January, France's court of appeal overturned a lower court decision that set the 67-year-old Diab free due to a lack of evidence.

France's Advocate General, a senior officer of the law who offers advice in the French legal system, sided with Diab's defence team in the hearings and argued for his release.

But Diab's release has been opposed by more than 20 civil society groups in France — including victims of terrorism groups and pro-Israel organizations.

Diab's Canadian lawyer Don Bayne said pressure from those groups played a role in today's decision.

"The travesty of justice continues despite clear evidence of Hassan's innocence," he said in a statement.

"This shows how political pressure trumps justice. We call upon Prime Minister Trudeau to put an end to this miscarriage of justice."

Accusation and extradition

The Ottawa university lecturer was accused by authorities of involvement in the 1980 Rue Copernic bombing, which killed four people and injured more than 40.

He was arrested by the RCMP in November 2008 and placed under strict bail conditions until he was extradited to France in 2014. He spent more than three years in prison in France before the case against him collapsed.

Firemen standing by the wreckage of a car and motorcycle after a bomb attack at a Paris synagogue on October 3, 1980 that killed four people. A Canadian court ruled on June 6, 2011 to extradite accused bomber Hassan Diab to France to face prosecution, but warned the government's case was "weak" and unlikely to result in a conviction.
Firemen stand by the wreckage of a car and motorcycle after a bomb attack at a Paris synagogue on Oct. 3, 1980 that killed four people. (AFP/Getty Images)

He was released in January 2018 after two French judges ruled the evidence against him wasn't strong enough to take to trial. He was never formally charged.

French prosecutors appealed Diab's release promptly — pursuing it after the last remaining piece of physical evidence linking Diab to the bombing had been discredited by France's own experts.

The case moved slowly as prosecutors sought to find new evidence against Diab, and as court proceedings were delayed by the pandemic.

Discredited evidence

The key physical evidence Canada relied on in extraditing Diab to France was handwriting analysis linking Diab's handwriting to that of the suspected bomber. Canadian government lawyers acting on France's behalf called it a "smoking gun" in the extradition hearing.

But in 2009, Diab's legal team produced contrary reports from four international handwriting experts. These experts questioned the methods and conclusions of the French experts. They also proved that some of the handwriting samples used by the French analysts belonged not to Diab but to his ex-wife.

French investigative judges dismissed the handwriting evidence as unreliable when they ordered Diab's release in January 2018.

While considering the appeal of Diab's release, another French judge ordered an independent review of the contentious handwriting evidence.

Diab's lawyers said this latest review delivered "a scathing critique and rebuke" of the original handwriting analysis "that mirror[s] the critique by the defence during the extradition hearing 10 years ago."

French judges said Diab had an alibi 

The French investigative judges who released Diab also found he had an alibi for the day of the Paris bombing. Using university records and interviews with Diab's classmates, the investigative judges determined he was "probably in Lebanon" writing exams when the bombing outside the synagogue took place.

"It is likely that Hassan Diab was in Lebanon during September and October 1980 … and it is therefore unlikely that he is the man … who then laid the bomb on Rue Copernic on October 3rd, 1980," they wrote.

In 2018, CBC News confirmed that France was aware of — and had failed to disclose — fingerprint evidence that ended up playing a critical role in Diab's release.

Since his release, Diab has been living with his wife and two children in Ottawa. He has resumed work as a part-time lecturer.

A spokesperson for Attorney General of Canada David Lametti would not comment on any extradition request.

"It would be inappropriate to speculate on any potential requests for extradition for Dr. Diab to France," said David Taylor in a statement.

"Canada is a rule of law country where extraditions are guided by the Extradition Act, international treaties and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."