By Barry Ellsworth
TRENTON, Canada (AA) – A former Canadian university professor was freed from a French jail Friday after terrorism charges against him were dropped.
Hassan Diab, a Lebanese-Canadian, was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in November 2008 and extradited to France, where he was suspected of participating in a 1980 Paris synagogue bombing in which four people died.
He was charged with first-degree murder and has spent three years in a French prison.
The 64-year-old former University of Ottawa sociology professor has repeatedly said he is innocent and maintained he was in Beruit, Lebanon when the attack took place.
Eight attempts to gain his release failed but Friday, French magistrates ruled there was not enough evidence to proceed with criminal charges.
Donald Bayne, Diab’s Canadian lawyer, said supporters who have worked to get his client released were “elated, relieved and thankful” that the professor is now free.
But his ordeal may not be over – Bayne said Diab’s French lawyers maintained it is almost a certainty that French prosecutors will appeal the decision to free him.
“France is too traumatized by terrorist attacks, their legal machinery for dealing with terrorism cases is very, very strict,” Bayne said in interviews with Canadian media. “The government can show no sign of softness or weakness toward accused terrorists.”
And, while Diab is free, he can’t just jump on an airplane and fly home to Canada.
“He’s found to be, in effect, an innocent man in France who is not a French citizen, who does not currently have Canadian travel documents and who is probably on a no-fly list,” Bayne said. “But he’s in a much better position today than he was yesterday in a prison – but he’s not at liberty, as a normal citizen would be, to hop on a plane and come home.”
Bayne thanked Global Affairs Canada and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for their support, but he questioned the extraditing of his client on flimsy evidence.
“This Canadian was extradited on overwhelmingly unreliable evidence,” he said. “How could Canada have extradited a Canadian to France when France never, never had a case against Dr. Diab fit to go to trial?”