After more than 30 years incarcerated in France and eight failed parole appeals, Georges Ibrahim Abdallah will find out tomorrow whether he can finally return to his homeland of Lebanon.
Abdallah, a founding member of guerilla group the Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions (LARF), was arrested in 1984 and given a life sentence in October 1987 for his involvement in the murder of two foreign representatives in Paris in 1982 – U.S. assistant military attaché lieutenant colonel Charles Ray and Israeli diplomat Yaacov Bar- Siman-Tov.
After 15 years, Abdallah had served the minimum term of his sentence and was eligible for parole but since then he has had eight appeals turned down. Most recently, in January 2013, Abdallah was cleared for release by the courts before his deportation was blocked at the last minute by then French interior minister, and current prime minister, Manuel Valls.
Abdallah currently resides in Lannemezan prison in southwestern France, where he is visited monthly by supporters while his family await his return to the Christian Maronite village of al-Qoubaiyat in northern Lebanon.
Tomorrow, in the Palais de Justice in Paris, he will find out the result of his ninth appeal. Jean-Louis Chalanset has been Abdallah’s lawyer since September 2013 and says that his client’s case is a unique one in Europe. “No one stays in prison for 30 years. He is the first political prisoner in the world to stay in prison for so long,” says Chalanset.
He emphasises that if Abdallah is released, his only option would be to return to Lebanon, as he is fearful of reprisals the Israeli intelligence service Mossad, if he were to stay in Paris.
Chalanset added that past interventions by the U.S. had turned Abdallah’s case into a political rather than judicial affair. Referring to an open letter sent to president Hollande in October 2013 which appealed for him to consider Abdallah’s case and was signed by a number of French politicians, Mr Chalanset says that Hollande did not release Abdallah due to pressure from the U.S. and Israel. “The U.S. do not want him to be free,” he says.
Chalanset also said that Abdallah’s cause has recently been hampered by the heightened tensions in France following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. “After the situation in Paris in January I don’t think they will free big figures like a terrorist,” he says.
Support for Abdallah in his homeland has increased in the run up to tomorrow’s appeal decision. The Daily Star of Lebanon reported that dozens of protesters gathered outside the French embassy in Beirut last Friday, carrying pictures of Abdallah and chanting for his release.
Bassam al-Kantar is a journalist based in Beirut and the spokesman for the International Campaign to Free Georges Abdallah, which was established in 2010 and has groups across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Al-Kantar said the purpose of the protests was to highlight the political interference in the case.
“We are sending a very clear message to the French government that they have to respect the independency of the court which is now dealing with the case of Georges Abdallah,” he says.
“Even some serial killers in Europe do not stay in jail for 30 years. He is now the dean of political prisoners in Europe.”
However, Al-Kantar shared the same sense of pessimism as Chalanset, saying that he feels the U.S. administration will not accept the potential for parole. “This is the spirit of revenge that the U.S. administration uses against any prisoners,” he says.
The U.S. publicly opposed the 2013 decision of a French appeals court to grant Abdallah conditional release. At the time, then State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters: “We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield.” Following the intervention, Valls declined to authorise Abdallah’s deportation.
The Lebanese Armed Revolutionary Factions (LARF) was established in 1979. The group supported the Palestinian cause by attacking Israeli forces and also targeted foreign supporters of the Lebanese government, including the U.S., France and Israel. According to the Terrorism Knowledge Base, Abdallah has continued to release communiqués in solidarity with other terrorist groups during his time in prison.
Newsweek contacted the U.S. Department of State for a comment on the case but received no reply. Newsweek contacted the French Ministry of Justice but they were unable to comment on specific cases.