On 28 July 2017, one of the longest judicial enquiries in the history of a French tribunal finally moved forward. Thirty-seven years after the crime, the investigating magistrates completed their enquiry into the 1980 bombing of the rue Copernic Synagogue in Paris.
The magistrates’ closure sets the calendar for a formal decision within 40 days regarding proceeding to trial. A period of 40 working days places the deadline for 23 September — one week from now.
This is the peg to engage the Justice Minister of France, Nicole Belloubet, from a personal perspective.
At 6.35pm on 3 October 1980, the bomb exploded killing 4 passers-by and wounding 40 worshippers inside the synagogue. Prime Minister Raymond Barre announced that “a bomb placed for Jews had killed four innocent Frenchmen.”
One of them, was Aliza, wife of the late Israeli filmmaker Micha Shagrir. She had come to Paris for a weekend with her girlfriend who lived in rue Lauriston abutting rue Copernic. She wished to buy some fruit at a shop facing the synagogue. I accompanied her to the corner, continuing straight ahead. Aliza turned into Copernic where, a few seconds later she met her death.
The authorities immediately blamed the extreme right, though the attack had all the features of Palestinian terrorism, backed by local extreme left support.
Copernic was to launch, over the next two years, 73 such incidents of antisemitic terror across Western Europe, of which 29 in France, culminating in the rue des Rosiers massacre of 9 in August 1982. The wave ended with that summer’s Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon to disperse European terrorists training in PLO camps. Arriving home, their targets shifted to banks and government installations — rather than synagogues — leading to a rigorous crackdown.
In 1999, French intelligence obtained evidence pointing to the perpetrators. Included was the name Hassan Diab, from Beirut of Palestinian birth, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — Special Operations (PFLP-SO), alleged to have assembled and detonated the motorbike bomb.
Reported evidence, including false passports, hand-writing analysis and testimony from PFLP and other associates, gleaned from European and United States intelligence services, led to the 2008 detention and house arrest of Diab — a University Professor of Sociology in Ottawa, Canada. Thereby, two years of his claims of mistaken identity came to an end.
I attended the 2010 extradition hearing and for the next four years campaigned in the French and Canadian media for his transfer to a Paris court.
After several appeals, Diab arrived in France, where in February 2015 he was charged with “murders, attempted murders; voluntary destruction of the property of others by an explosive or incendiary substance in an organized group; crimes related to individual or collective deeds aiming to gravely upset public order by intimidation or terror.”
His defence counsel submitted two demands for annulment of the case on grounds that the evidence lacked credibility. Both were rejected by the Paris Court of Appeal on 17 December 2015.
Now there are no further legal obstacles and only political pressures remain, we urge the Justice Minister to ensure that 2018 be the year to bring final closure for families of the victims and survivors. After a wait of 37 years, justice further delayed would be justice denied.