Air India: The Kanishka bombing-

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A backgrounder

Man Aman Singh Chhina, July 15, 2022: The Indian Express

What is the Kanishka bombing case?

On June 23, 1985, a bomb exploded aboard Air India Flight 182 flying from Montreal to London, with New Delhi being the final destination. It was a Boeing 747 wide-bodied jumbo jet, christened Emperor Kanishka. The bomb had been placed in a suitcase, which was checked into cargo during a stopover in Vancouver. It exploded above the Atlantic Ocean in Irish airspace when the aircraft was cruising at an altitude of 31,000 feet, killing all 329 people on board — 268 Canadian citizens, many of whom were of Indian origin, 27 Britons, and 24 Indians.

About an hour before Kanishka went down, a bomb had gone off inside the terminal building in Tokyo’s Narita airport. The bomb had been put in a bag, which had been checked on to a Canadian Pacific Airlines flight in Vancouver, and was intended to be placed on Air India Flight 301 headed to Bangkok. The bomb went off as it was being transferred to the aircraft at Narita. Two Japanese baggage handlers were killed in the explosion. Investigations established that the two bombings were related — and together, they came to be known as the “Kanishka case”.

Who was responsible for the attacks?

Canadian and Indian investigations concluded the bombings were planned and executed by Sikh separatists based in Canada, working under the instructions of militants who were active in Punjab. The investigators said the bombings had been carried out by the militant group Babbar Khalsa as revenge for Operation Blue Star, during which the Indian Army had entered the Golden Temple in the summer of 1984 to flush out militants led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

Where did Ripudaman Singh Malik come in?

The investigations revolved around three main accused: Ripudaman Singh Malik, Inderjit Singh Reyat, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, all of whom were Canadian citizens. Malik, who was 75 when he was killed on Thursday, had gone to Canada as a young man in 1972. He had started off driving a cab, but had subsequently become a successful businessman and a prominent member of the Sikh community.

He was president of the 16,000-member Vancouver-based Khalsa Credit Union (KCU), with assets worth over $110 million, and also the president of Satnam Education Society of British Columbia, which ran Khalsa schools.

Malik was allegedly associated with the Babbar Khalsa, and was close to Talwinder Singh Parmar, the alleged mastermind of the Kanishka bombings, who was killed by the Punjab Police in 1992. Two of Parmar’s relatives worked in one of Malik’s schools.

How did the case against him progress?

Both Malik and Bagri were arrested in Vancouver in October 2000. The third accused, Reyat, an auto mechanic and electrician who lived in British Columbia, had been arrested in February 1988 from Coventry in the United Kingdom, where he had moved with his family. Reyat was accused of having procured parts for making the bombs, and supplying them to be planted on both aircraft.

In May 1991, Reyat was convicted and awarded a 10-year sentence on two counts of manslaughter (the two Japanese who died at Narita airport) and held guilty of four explosives charges relating to the Narita blast. He also got a five-year term on one count of manslaughter relating to the Kanishka blast.

As the trial in the Kanishka bombing case began in April 2003, Reyat was made a prosecution witness against Malik and Bagri after he accepted his role in making bombs for the Narita blast. By then, Reyat had spent 12 years in jail. Malik and Bagri were charged with 329 counts of first-degree murder.

So were Malik and Bagri convicted?

No. They were acquitted. Reyat said he could not remember details of the bombing plot nor the name of those involved. In 2010, Reyat was given a nine-year sentence for perjury after the court found he had lied. British Columbia Supreme Court judge Ian Josephson called him “an unmitigated liar” while slapping perjury charges against him.

Many believe it was Reyat’s false testimony that led to the acquittal of Malik and Bagri. Reyat remains the only person convicted in connection with the bombings. The relatives of the victims still believe that had Reyat testified truthfully in the trial of Malik and Bagri, justice would have been served.

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