A Painful Blast From The Past


Nearly three decades after the first fatal attack on French Jewry since World War II, the Jews of France are reliving a horror and expressing thanks.

The horror: a terrorist attack on the Rue Copernic synagogue in October 1980 that claimed four lives.
The thanks: for the arrest of a Canadian professor accused of the bombing.

Canadian officials announced last week that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had taken into custody Hassan Diab, 54, a Canadian-Lebanese man of Palestinian origin who is a part-time instructor at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University. Diab has reportedly led a quiet life in Quebec.

The Mounties say Diab, whose extradition is being sought by French authorities, was affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – Special Operations, a radical offshoot of the PLO that was blamed for the attack.

“Better late than never after 30 years of silence,” said Rabbi Michael Williams, above, the synagogue’s British-born spiritual leader for 30 years.

Rabbi Williams, being interviewed by a journalist after the attack, right, recalled when he, at his synagogues’ pulpit, first became aware of the Friday night bombing in the street outside. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s strange. It’s raining in the synagogue.’” The blast, from explosives strapped on a motorcycle, shattered the stained-glass ceiling above the sanctuary.

“Two minutes later we saw the flames and we saw people injured, so we left the synagogue and then we saw what you see in the photographs — cars overturned, a lot of fire,” the rabbi said.

A photo from that date, below, shows firefighters standing next to cars destroyed in the bombing.
Rabbi Williams said French police never set foot in his synagogue as part of the investigation until earlier this year, until Nicolas Sarkozy became prime minister and the pace of the country’s campaign against terrorism and anti-Semitism stepped up.

“The community certainly welcomes the arrest of a man who is suspected to be the responsible person for the murdering and killing of innocent people,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, secretary-general of the Paris-based European Jewish Congress.