Despite the fact that he completed the minimum term of his sentence in 1999, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for killing two US and Israeli officials, is still behind bars.
Earlier in December, a French court sentenced notorious Venezuelan militant Carlos the Jackal to life in prison. Now, another radical pro-Palestinian militant has resurfaced in France – this time, by proxy.
On December 22, several dozen protesters gathered in front of the Ministry of Justice in Paris to call for the liberation of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, former leader of the Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions. The 60-year-old Abdallah has been imprisoned in southwestern France since 1984, despite the fact that he completed the minimum term of his sentence in 1999.
Abdallah was sentenced to life in prison in 1987 for his involvement in the 1982 murders of US military attaché Charles Ray and Israeli diplomat Yakov Barsimentov in Paris, as well as in an assassination attempt on Robert O. Homme, an American consul in Strasbourg. The Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions has claimed responsibility for these acts, saying they were carried out in response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
‘A resolute and pitiless militant’
Yves Bonnet, former director of France’s Central Headquarters for Surveillance of the Territory and founder of the International Centre for Research and Studies on Terrorism, contributed to the hunt that led to Abdallah’s arrest in Lyon in 1984. Despite that, he declares himself in favour of the prisoner’s release. “This injustice has lasted long enough,” he recently told FRANCE 24.
“It’s gone beyond the limits of what’s reasonable, and at this point nothing justifies his imprisonment. We should put him on a plane and send him back to Lebanon, where the authorities are willing to receive him.”
Described as a shy teacher from northern Lebanon who became – in his own words – a “revolutionary Communist and anti-Zionist militant”, Abdallah has filed for parole seven times – to no avail.
In November 2003, the local entity that grants parole in Pau, the southern city in which Abdullah is detained, gave the green light to one of Abdallah’s requests. But the minister of Justice at the time, Dominique Perben, appealed the decision, calling the prisoner’s case “extremely serious”. Abdallah remained in prison.
Abdallah’s most recent request for release on parole, filed in May 2009, was rejected by a Paris appeals court that deemed the prisoner “a resolute and pitiless militant” who might take up his “combat” again upon returning to Lebanon.
The court justified its decision by citing a 2008 French law that aimed to maintain in detention prisoners seen as likely to resume criminal behaviour once their prison sentence is completed. Contacted by FRANCE 24, the former justice minister did not wish to comment on “legal decisions made by independent judges”.
‘Hostage of the French government’
Abdallah is supported by a network of anti-imperialist, Marxist, and anti-Zionist activists who have continually denounced what they consider judicial mistreatment of “a hostage of the French government”. They compare him to a more celebrated former political prisoner: Nelson Mandela of South Africa.
Meanwhile, Abdallah’s lawyer, the controversial Jacques Vergès, has slammed the United States for what he alleges has been US pressure on French authorities not to release Abdallah. In 2007, Vergès urged French judges “to show our condescending American friends that France is not a submissive girl”. Demonstrators in Paris on December 22 used that argument in a scathing slogan, chanting: “French justice at the feet of Zionists and Americans”.
Like Abdallah’s supporters, Yves Bonnet contends that the US and Israel are still manoeuvring to keep the former leader of the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions in jail. “France has faced enormous pressure to prevent the man who assassinated two people who were not, in fact, diplomats, but rather a CIA agent and a member of Mossad [Israeli secret service], from being freed from prison,” Bonnet said.
Meanwhile, the Shiite party Hezbollah has frequently called on France to liberate Abdallah, and the Lebanese authorities have already asked France to hand over the man they have called “one of their oppressed sons”.
‘France did not keep its promise’
In the late 1990s, Yves Bonnet appeared before a union of lawyers and judges to plead the case of a man who he said was likely “cursing” him from his jail cell. “I was received by four magistrates who listened attentively before turning me down politely,” Bonnet recounted. “They explained to me that Abdallah’s alleged conversion to Islam had turned him from a Christian into a dangerous Islamic propagandist, and for that reason it was impossible to release him.”
France’s former top intelligence official says he is especially “uncomfortable”, because he had secured a deal in 1985 to swap Abdallah for French diplomat Gilles Peyrolles, who had been kidnapped in Lebanon by the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions in March of that year.
Peyrolles was freed just a month later in exchange for a guarantee to send Abdallah to Algeria instead of keeping him imprisoned in France. “The hostage was freed, but Abdallah stayed in jail,” Bonnet explained. “France did not keep its promise, even though I personally was willing to uphold my part of it.”
In an article published in French daily Le Figaro in January 2011, Middle East specialist Georges Malbrunot wrote that some of Abdallah’s supporters had even warned the French government about possible kidnappings of its citizens in Lebanon.
“The Clotilde Reiss case showed certain people in Lebanon that it was possible to get a prisoner back through blackmail,” a journalist close to Hezbollah is quoted as saying in the article.