French authorities order release of Lebanese-Canadian Hassan Diab

OTTAWA — French authorities have dropped terrorism charges against a Lebanese-Canadian who was suspected of taking part in an attack in Paris in 1980 and have ordered his immediate release.

But Hassan Diab’s legal ordeal may not be over just yet, with an appeal of the decision very likely and the fact he doesn’t have travel documents to get home, his Canadian counsel said Friday.

That said, Diab’s Ottawa-based lawyer, Donald Bayne, says supporters are ”elated, relieved and thankful” at the news.

Bayne believes Diab, 64, is on a no-fly list, so it’s unclear when he could return to Canada.

“He’s been 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 (or almost certainly) on a no-fly list,” Bayne said in an interview.

“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.”

Diab was accused in the terrorist attack on a Paris synagogue and has been imprisoned in France for three years.

But French magistrates ruled Friday the evidence against Diab was not strong enough to warrant a referral to criminal court.

Bayne said he was thankful for the decision by French judges who used “their wisdom and courage to buck political and social pressure to make a completely just decision, something that we believe the courts in Canada failed to do at every level.”

Bayne said he’s not yet ready to declare victory, with Diab’s French lawyers certain that prosecutors in France will appeal.

“France is so traumatized by terrorist attacks that their legal machinery for dealing with terrorism cases is very, very strict,” Bayne said. “The government can show no sign of softness or weakness toward accused terrorists.”

The RCMP arrested Diab in Quebec in November 2008 at the request of French authorities in connection with the attack, which killed four people.

He was extradited to France in 2014 after the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear his case.

Diab, a sociology professor, has always denied his involvement.

His lawyers in France pointed to the evidence that showed Diab could not have been in France when the attack occurred, with many elements showing he was in Beirut at the time.

“The decision also notably underlines the numerous contradictions and misstatements contained in the intelligence which cast serious doubts about their reliability, as well as the fact that Dr. Diab’s handwriting, fingerprints, palm prints, physical description, and age do not match those of the suspect identified in 1980,” read a statement by an a committee that advocated for Diab’s release.

Bayne also thanked Global Affairs Canada and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for their support.

The fact his extradition went ahead without a strong case against him demonstrates it’s time to correct the Extradition Act.

The lawyer urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to act.

“How could Canada have extradited a Canadian to France when France never, never had a case against Dr. Diab fit to go to trial?,” Bayne said.

“This Canadian was extradited on overwhelmingly unreliable evidence. Yet every Canadian court allowed this to happen.”

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