43 years later, suspect in deadly Paris synagogue bombing goes on trial in absentia

Hassan Diab, who lives in Canada, accused of planting bomb outside premises that killed four and injured dozens on behalf of Palestinian terror group; he claims mistaken identity

A police officer walks at the scene after the bombing of the Copernic street synagogue, in Paris, that killed 4 people on October 3, 1980. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)
A police officer walks at the scene after the bombing of the Copernic street synagogue, in Paris, that killed 4 people on October 3, 1980. (Remy de la Mauviniere/AP)

PARIS, France — A Lebanese-Canadian academic who is the lone suspect in a 1980 bombing outside a Paris synagogue went on trial in absentia Monday, nearly 43 years after four people were killed and 46 wounded in the unclaimed attack.

French authorities identified Hassan Diab as a suspect in 1999. They accuse him of planting the bomb on the evening of October 3, 1980, outside the synagogue where 320 worshipers had gathered to mark the end of the Jewish holiday of Simchat Torah.

Diab, 69, has denied involvement in the attack and said he was at a university in Beirut at the time of the western Paris bombing. His supporters and lawyers in France and Canada claim Diab has been wrongly pursued by French judicial authorities and is a victim of mistaken identity.

French investigators attributed the synagogue attack to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-Special Operations, a Palestinian terror group. Canada authorized Diab’s extradition to France at the end of 2014. He spent three years in pretrial detention but anti-terrorism judges then ordered him freed from French custody due to a lack of evidence, and he returned to Canada.

France’s court of appeal ruled in January 2021 that Diab must stand trial on terrorism-related charges. If convicted, he could receive a life sentence. A verdict is expected by April 21. He lives in Ottawa.

Survivors of the attack and victims’ families attended the first day of proceedings in Paris on Monday. Prosecutor Benjamin Chambre said that Diab’s absence is proof of “great cowardice in his behavior.”

“It’s a grave abomination for justice and for the victims 43 years after the events,” Chambre added. Diab’s lawyer William Bourdon said his client had “never fled” anything.

Hassan Diab, center, covers his face as he is escorted from the Ottawa Courthouse in Ottawa on November 14, 2008. (The Canadian Press, Sean Kilpatrick/AP)

For survivors, the long path to trial may be justice delayed but at least it’s not justice denied, their lawyers told The Associated Press. The victims’ attorneys say the trial will serve as a deterrent for future terrorist acts and antisemitic sentiments.

“It’s a positive development that the trial is taking place, even if he [the suspect] will not be there and even if he is acquitted,” said Bernard Cahen, a lawyer for two families who lost loved ones.

David Père, a lawyer for a then-14-year-old victim who was celebrating his bar mitzvah at the time of the attack, said the “path of justice must be followed,” even after more than four decades of investigation and legal drama. There is a suspect in the attack, and Père said his client wants to hear what Diab has to say in court, even if only through his lawyers.

“A terrorist attack is something that haunts you every day of your life,” Père said. “A trial is a result [of an attack], not a revenge for it.”

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