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Friday, November 14, 2008

The terror professor

From CTV:
The RCMP has arrested a Canadian man in Quebec at the request of France, which accuses the man of being behind a bomb attack that killed four people at a Paris synagogue in 1980.

The Department of Justice confirmed to CTV.ca that Hassan Diab, 55, was arrested at his home in Gatineau, Quebec Thursday.

Diab is a part-time sociology professor at the University of Ottawa, CTV News has learned. According to the university officials, he teaches one class at the undergraduate level.

Diab is also listed as a contract instructor in the department of sociology and anthropology at Carleton University for the fall of 2008. Carleton officials could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

Two French anti-terrorism judges travelled to Canada earlier this week according to The Associated Press. Investigators are searching Diab's home and office for clues, including DNA samples.

A year ago the story broke that Diab was being investigated by French authorities. He told French media it was a case of mistaken identity.

Three French citizens and one Israeli woman were killed outside a synagogue in a posh area of Paris when a bomb went off minutes before a crowd of people were due to emerge from the synagogue. Twenty others were hurt.

The attack took place on a Friday evening, at the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
The Ottawa Citizen adds:
As one of the first contemporary terrorist strikes on a synagogue outside the Middle East, the blast led to the fortification of Jewish community sites across Europe and North America and a massive wave of anti-Semitism across France.

The break in the case came in September 2007 when German authorities discovered an old membership list for the now-defunct PFLP-SO, prompting a new French magistrate to reactivate the investigation.

A month later, Le Figaro, quoting unnamed sources, reported that French authorities suspected Mr. Diab was the leader of the small commando team responsible for the attack and asked Canada for assistance with their investigation.

The main Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group, blacklisted by the Canadian government as a terrorist group since 2003, is described as a secular Palestinian group, purportedly guided by Marxist ideology, that is responsible for the 1968 hijacking of an El Al flight en route from Rome to Tel Aviv, as well as car and suicide bombings in Israel.
The Globe and Mail is sympathetic with the professor:
Until last year, Hassan Diab was leading the quiet life of a Canadian sociology professor.

Prof. Diab was teaching at both Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, was said to be a popular colleague and teacher. After leaving the violence of his native Lebanon and earning his doctorate in the United States, Prof. Diab, 54, received his Canadian citizenship and appeared to settle into Ottawa.

There, friends said he was a secular man with an interest in sociology and Middle East studies, and was not without a warm side.

"He has a great rapport with students," said Carleton professor Nahla Abdo, a friend of Prof. Diab's. "He's intelligent, he's smart, he's witty. ... I really think highly of his academic skills."

But just before noon yesterday, the RCMP showed up at a home in Gatineau, Que., and arrested Prof. Diab on behalf of French authorities, who allege he was an integral part of the bombing of a Paris synagogue 28 years ago.

Today, Prof. Diab will appear in court in an extradition hearing. He steadfastly maintains his innocence, saying he wasn't in Paris at all that year, his name is very common, and that French investigators simply have the wrong man.

"It's a case of mistaken identity," his lawyer, René Duval, told The Globe and Mail last night. "I'm telling you he's innocent, and we'll fight that up to the Supreme Court of Canada."

The first allegations against Prof. Diab surfaced last November, when a French newspaper, Le Figaro, received a leak that Prof. Diab built the bomb in the 1980 attack. The story made news across France and Canada.

For Mr. Diab, life hasn't been the same since. He has been harassed, followed, and had one person attempt to break into his apartment, his lawyer alleges. None of the specific charges against him have been made openly and French authorities have not attempted to contact Mr. Duval.
The Globe and Mail takes pains to make it sound like a secular professor couldn't possibly be a terrorist, without noting that the PFLP has a secular Marxist ideology.