OTTAWA — The French government’s case that Ottawa university professor Hassan Naim Diab bombed a Paris synagogue in 1980 relies on extensive help from intelligence services to link him to the trail that petered out on police in the 1980s.
Mr. Diab was arrested in Hull, Que., last week at the request of French authorities, who say he was responsible for parking a bomb-laden motorcycle outside a synagogue in Paris on Oct. 3, 1980. The bomb detonated before worshippers left services inside, but it still killed three French men and an Israeli woman.
The French government wants Mr. Diab to face charges of murder, attempted murder, and wilful destruction of property, contending the Lebanese-born Canadian carried out the bombing for a radical leftist group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Special Operations.
Mr. Diab has denied the allegations through his lawyer, who says he wasn’t even in France at the time.
The French case against Mr. Diab was in a file sealed from public view, but on Thursday it was opened by order of a Canadian judge.
The French case against Mr. Diab has four main points:
• He resembles police sketches of the bomber;
• His handwriting matches that of the bomber;
• His is identified by intelligence sources and former friends as having been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; and
• His passport was used to get into France around the time of the 1980 bombing, in suspicious circumstances.
The declaration outlining the case begins by tracing the movements of the synagogue bomber back from the scene of the crime. Police worked back to the dealer who sold the Suzuki motorcycle whose saddlebags would contain the explosives, to the Hotel Celtic where he stayed in Paris, and the prostitute who visited him there.
He was staying under the name Alexander Panadriyu, but police eventually concluded that was a false identity from a fake Cypriot passport.
As they closed in, decades after the bombing, French police say they had two experts compare the writing on “Panadriyu’s” check-in file with a sample of Mr. Diab’s handwriting, gleaned from documents when he was a student at Syracuse University years later.
One expert said the writing was definitely Mr. Diab’s, though he had tried to change it; the other expert said Mr. Diab could have been the writer.
Further, French authorities argue, police sketches produced at the time — based on interviews with witnesses to the attack, merchants who sold goods used in the attack, and those who dealt with a man using the Panadriyu passport in Paris around the time of the attack — all resemble Mr. Diab.
One man French police identified as a close university friend of Mr. Diab’s, who was himself an ex-member of the PFLP, Youcef El Khalil, would later tell them he thought the sketches resembled Mr. Diab when they were published in the Paris-Match newspaper on Oct. 24, 1980.
They looked like his friend so much, the French police say, that Mr. El Khalil felt compelled to talk about the attack with Mr. Diab when they met that year in Beirut, discussing how such bomb attacks hurt their cause and portrayed the PFLP poorly in the media.
However, Mr. El Khalil told authorities, he did not ask Mr. Diab if he was involved in the attack or had been in France during that time, because he “did not want to involve myself.”
Mr. El Khalil had identified Mr. Diab and others as members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine during questioning in 1988. But when asked specifically about Mr. Diab in 2008, he said Mr. Diab had been critical of the PFLP since 1979, saying it had failed on the issue of democracy, and he was less enthusiastic about the organization than most of its members.
The French authorities also suggest Mr. Diab not only committed the Paris bombing, but was also responsible for a second bombing on Oct. 20, 1981, of a synagogue in Antwerp, Belgium.
Mr. Diab spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since his arrest. A slight figure, with close-cropped dark hair and a discernible Lebanese accent, he marked his 55th birthday being led to an Ottawa courtroom witness stand in ankle shackles to testify on his own behalf.
He spoke confidently for almost four hours about his academic career, broken marriages, two grown children and world travels.
He became visibly agitated, however, describing how he sublet an apartment in Hull in late August to escape what he called an “intimidation process” in which strange black cars with tinted windows and Quebec licence plates tailed him and his common-law partner around Ottawa for much of the past year.
Under sometimes intense cross-examination by assistant Crown attorney Claude LeFrancois, Mr. Diab recounted bits and pieces of life in his native Beirut, two failed marriages and decades of extensive travel in the Middle East, Europe and North America, much of it in pursuit of teaching jobs at various universities. Until his arrest last week, he was a part-time sociology professor at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
By law, Mr. LeFrancois was prohibited from asking Mr. Diab questions dealing directly with the evidence against him.
The hearing continues Friday.