Wed, Mar 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bereaved families hope 20-year wait for justice at hand

1985 BOMBINGS Two Canadian Sikhs accused in the Air India attacks will be told their fate on eight charges of murder and conspiracy each

AFP , VANCOUVER, CANADA

After 20 years of torment for victims' families, a Canadian court today will hand down a verdict on two Sikhs accused of planting a bomb which reaped 329 lives as it tore through an Air India jet.

Justice Ian Bruce Josephson will pass judgement in a blast-resistant courtroom on the world's worst airborne terror strike prior to the Sept. 11 attacks.

The two accused, Ajaib Singh Bagri and Ripudaman Singh Malik will learn their fate on eight charges of murder and conspiracy, watched by dozens of relatives of the victims.

Josephson's judgement comes after a dramatic trial, replete with tales of religious passion, intrigue and jilted lovers undercut by the sombre memory of hundreds of innocent civilians who perished.

Malik and Bagri, orthodox Sikhs who immigrated to Canada from Punjab, are accused of conspiring to plant suitcase bombs on two aircraft.

During the 19-month trial which Josephson heard without a jury, prosecutors contended that Malik, a millionaire Vancouver businessman, and Bagri, a rural millworker, were part of a radical Sikh group based on Canada's west coast.

Their mission was to punish India for its crackdown on Sikhs in the early 1980s and the armys attack on the Sikh Golden Temple at Amritsar, prosecutor Robert Wright told the court.

At the time, Sikhs worldwide were also campaigning for an independent homeland, to be called Amritsar.

Prosecutors presented evidence they said proved the Sikh group built suitcase bombs on Vancouver Island, bought airplane tickets, then planted the explosives on two flights from Vancouver that connected with Air India planes.

The first bomb exploded June 23, 1985, at Japan's Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers transferring suitcases to Air India Flight 201.

Some 54 minutes later, a second bomb exploded in the baggage hold of Air India Flight 182. All 329 people aboard the Jumbo Jet died over the Atlantic, off the coast of Ireland.

Malik and Bagri were not charged until 2000, along with a third man, Inderjit Singh Reyat.

Reyat had earlier been convicted in the Narita explosion and sentenced to 10 years, before he was charged with the bomb on Flight 182. In 2003, just before the trial was to begin, Reyat pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and is serving a five-year sentence.

Another immigrant to Canada, Tarwinder Singh Parma, was the alleged mastermind of the plot and died in a 1992 police shootout in India.

For the families of the Air India victims, the long wait for justice has been grueling. The 15-year international investigation was marred with controversies and setbacks, including the revelation that Canadian intelligence agents erased wiretap evidence.

The trial spread over 19 months, and several witnesses who were expected to provide key testimony suffered attacks of amnesia.

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