Accused bomber can be extradited to France: court

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A Canadian court ruled Monday that a man accused of a 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four people can be extradited to France, but warned the French government's case was "weak."

French prosecutors want Hassan Diab to face charges of murder, attempted murder and willful destruction of property, for the first fatal attack against the French Jewish community since the Nazi occupation in World War II.

If convicted of the bombing, Diab could face life in prison, but the lawyer for the Canadian-Lebanese national indicated he would appeal the ruling.

Diab was immediately taken into custody to await a final decision from Canada's justice minister. Diab, who gained Canadian citizenship in 2006, has 30 days to plead his case in writing to the minister.

Diab was arrested in a suburb of the Canadian capital at the request of French authorities in November 2008 for his alleged role in the bombing that killed three Frenchmen and a young Israeli woman, and injured dozens.

After the ruling, he said in a video message: "I had nothing to do with what the French authorities allege against me. I am not responsible for what they claim. I was not in France on October 3, 1980 when the hateful attack against the synagogue in Paris took place.

"I very strongly condemn the attack," he added.

Diab's defense lawyer Donald Bayne said the evidence presented against Diab by French authorities relied on secret, un-sourced intelligence.

"The tragedy of this case is that wholly unreliable evidence is being used to secure an extradition to France, where Dr. Diab will be exposed to trial by secret un-defendable intelligence," he told a press conference.

French analysts compared his handwriting with that found on a Paris hotel registration card believed to have been signed by the bomber, but three handwriting experts testified the analysis was flawed and did not match Diab's mark.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger said much of the evidence, such as Diab's alleged membership in the Popular Front of the Liberation of Palestine and eyewitness descriptions of the suspected bomber, "whether taken individually or viewed as a whole, would not be sufficient to justify committing Mr. Diab to trial in France."

"At best they create a certain degree of suspicion concerning his involvement in the terrorist bombing," he said.

But the handwriting evidence -- five words printed in simplistic block letters -- could link Diab to the bombing, Maranger added.

"The case presented by the Republic of France against Mr. Diab is a weak case; the prospects of conviction in the context of a fair trial seem unlikely," the judge commented.

However, he added: "Canada signed an extradition treaty with the Republic of France, who suspect that Mr. Diab is responsible for a heinous crime."

"It is presupposed, based on our treaty with France, that they will conduct a fair trial, and that justice will be done," Maranger concluded.

France alleges Diab was a member of a Palestinian extremist group believed to have planted a bomb in a motorcycle saddlebag outside the Copernic Street synagogue in the posh 16th arrondissement of Paris on October 3, 1980.

French authorities issued a warrant in November 2007 for Diab's arrest, following a lead from German intelligence. Investigators also say Diab resembles police composites of a suspect sketched at the time.

Diab claims he is the victim of mistaken identity and insists he was a student in Beirut at the time. He has also denied any links to extremist organizations.

Inside the courtroom, supporters of the 57-year-old former sociology professor gasped when the judge declined to extend his bail.

Blasting the "unfair state" of Canada's extradition law, Bayne said: "There is overwhelming evidence of the unreliability of the French handwriting analysis, yet the Canadian judge feels powerless to stop the extradition."

He called on Canadians to write to their justice minister and urge him to stay this process and free Diab.

By late Monday, more than 1,000 had signed a petition urging the court of appeal to renew Diab's bail while he makes a last ditch effort to stay his extradition.

Crown prosecutor Claude LeFrancois, meanwhile, told reporters: "We think the result is the right one. There's enough evidence upon which to commit Mr. Diab (for extradition). The judge agreed."

© 2011 AFP

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