AIR INDIA TRIAL VERDICT: NOT GUILTY

March 16, 2005: Read British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Ian Bruce Josephson’s Judgment in Finding Ripudaman Singh Malik & Ajaib Singh Bagri Not Guilty: Click Here

Now Available: Salim Jiwa’s Second Book on the Air India Disaster, Margin of Terror

Part Two:

The Investigation

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Read Part Three:

The Punjab: Cause and Effect Click Here

Back to Part One:

The Disaster

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Chapter 1

Part Two

Chapter 16

The Final Truth

The experts and the lawyers had argued until they were blue in the face about whether Air India Flight 182 was downed by a bomb.

But in Canada, investigators had already accumulated a wealth of information about a series of purchases made by a Sikh radical from Duncan, British Columbia.  Police had begun tracking the purchase of the stereo of the type which exploded in Japan along with Micronta-model,  7-day electronic timers from RadioShack. They had already obtained a copy of a receipt for the purchase of the type of stereo which blew up in Tokyo killing those two unfortunate Japanese baggage handlers.

In addition, police also found the man had arrived by ferry from Duncan, BC to Vancouver the day before the bags were to be checked in at Vancouver Airport. On the morning of June 22, 1985, the man from Duncan and a companion visited an auto-marine electric store where a battery was purchased. The battery was similar to one that was found in the debris field in Tokyo.

Experts who were still arguing about whether there was a bomb or no bomb where acting in isolation – without the benefit of all the facts at their disposal.

The fact of the matter is that experts cannot, as Eric Newton so validly pointed out in his article in the Journal of Aviation Safety, consider any aspect of the crash in isolation from other factors and come to a valid conclusion.  That was the whole problem with the Kirpal inquiry from the outset.  One expert would just analyze the sounds recorded on the Cockpit Voice Recorder.  Another would take a look at the Air Traffic Control tapes.  Yet another would look at the bodies that were found.  And each one would come back and say there was no evidence of a bomb.

What is needed in an investigation like this is correlation of all the facts relating to the case, from its beginnings in Vancouver to the sudden and tragic end of the aircraft at 7:14:01 GMT.  Newton says it often happens in similar cases that actual bomb fragments are difficult clues to find.  In this case those fragments are lying at the bottom of the sea, lost forever.  Therefore, the only valid conclusions can come from circumstantial evidence, both the evidence of criminal activity and the evidence of the sudden and dramatic disappearance of that flight close to its destination, Heathrow Airport, when nothing had been wrong with the aircraft throughout the whole flight.

Take one example of expert testimony.  Dr Hill could only say that there was no evidence of a bomb in the bodies he examined.  However, he got samples from only 131 bodies and one more that was recovered during the salvage operation.  That does not rule out the odd-man-theory – that somewhere in the wreckage of the aircraft under the murky waters of the Atlantic is a body that does contain evidence of an explosion.  Hill can only say he did not find any evidence of a bomb on the people he examined.  At the same time, he can’t rule it out either.  There is no doubt anyway that the bomb was not located in the passenger cabin.  That was ascertained for a fact through other evidence.

Cockpit Voice Recorder experts tried to analyze the sound of a bang and came to different conclusions about what that sound was.  On its own, that sound would not be sufficient to prove whether or not the sound was made by a bomb.  On the other hand, no one can say that the sound was not made by a bomb.  All that can be said, and all that needs to be said, is that it is the sound of an explosion.

The salvage operation showed unique holes and blast damage that were consistent with an explosive device.  Holes are one of the best indications of this.  Secondly, at least one piece of the interior panel of the aircraft which washed ashore showed signs of blisters, as though it had been burned.  Furthermore, a carpet from the cabin shows holes made in an upward direction from the bottom or the forward luggage hold.  Particles of debris were flying inside the cabin, as evidence in Cork showed.  Metal and plastic particles had become embedded in the bodies of the victims.  That could only have been caused if a violent air stream entered the fuselage from some point in the aircraft, likely from the front.  Other evidence shows that the forward cargo door, measuring 9 feet by 6 feet, was torn away- the upper two-thirds of it – not torn from the hinges, but ripped out.  The hole this left in the aircraft would have been about 30 sq.ft. – more than enough to cause massive structural failure, as Newton said.

That door didn’t rip itself apart.  The door gave way to a massive force pushing against it from the inside of the front luggage hold.  The container loading pattern in the aircraft’s forward luggage hold which is slap against the electronics bay, shows that two containers on the port side were carrying bags bound for New Delhi from Toronto, while one container, the forward right side container, which was near  the door of the cargo hold, was empty.

  1. Singh’s bag would not have arrived at Terminal Two of Toronto airport until late in the process of loading.  Therefore it would have been among the last bags loaded onto the aircraft.  It too was marked with the destination New Delhi.  It could have been, and probably was, in one of the two containers lying close to the electronics bay.  A massive explosion caused by more than eight sticks of dynamite in either one of those two containers would blast the empty container right through the door, breaking it two-thirds of the way down.  This is confirmed by the fact that the right wing and an engine mounted on it – the wing is just behind the cargo door – showed impact damage in the air, as though items had been thrown from the front of the aircraft.  The experts cannot deny the scenario that a blast in the forward luggage hold flung containers and bags out of the cargo door and against the wing. There is also compelling evidence for those experts who say the bomb was in the rear cargo hold – and the RCMP believe that theory based on computer projections.

Any major opening in the fuselage would cause massive explosive decompression, the bomb lifting the floorboards of the cabin in an upward direction, as the evidence showed, and causing a stream of air carrying debris of metal and plastic to hit passengers as the jet traveled at approximately 600 miles per hour.  The opening would also result in the jet, with its right wing damaged already, suddenly pitching nose down.  This would cause a violent upward jerk on passengers sitting in the back of the aircraft – vertical loading, as the experts called it.

All of this would happen rapidly, within split seconds.  The aircraft would start disintegrating from all sides.  Further evidence of the bomb being in the forward luggage container is the fact that all electronic equipment stopped working simultaneously.  An explosion in the back would not have caused this.  It would have allowed the transponder to keep going for a while, at least.  That it did not is symptomatic of sudden failure of the Main Equipment Center, the plane’s vital nerve center.  However, all these arguments, as Eric Newton says, are academic and an aircraft is doomed no matter where a bomb is placed if the explosive is of sufficient power.  Well, it was in this case.

In the days prior to the bombing, the man who bought the stereo unit, timers, batteries and other things needed for making explosive, had also acquired dynamite. I interviewed a man who lives near Duncan and he told me he gave the Sikh militant several sticks of dynamite prior to the bombings. He said he put two and two together following the explosion and told me he felt taken advantage of because he had genuinely believed the man was planning to use the dynamite for legitimate purposes such as blowing tree stumps out of the ground.

For the sake of argument, even supposing that no physical evidence of a bomb was ever found, how could anyone explain away the circumstantial evidence compiled by the RCMP?  Can they explain the tickets of L. Singh and M. Singh?  Can they explain why both tickets were bought together, reserved together?  Can they explain why the telephone contact numbers for both were the same?  Explain why the man whose number was given doesn’t know them?  Why both men checked in their bags and then didn’t fly?

Can they explain why both flights on which the men did not turn up ran into trouble?  Why the Narita bomb exploded exactly one hour before Air India 182 went down?  Can they explain why L. Singh was to connect with Air India in Narita while M. Singh was to connect with Air India in Toronto, if this fact was not related to the two tragedies?  Can they explain why M. Singh made a fuss to get his bag interlined onto Air India 182 yet didn’t get on the flight?

Finally, can they explain why the Boeing 747 vanished so suddenly while flying routinely at 31,000 feet with absolutely nothing wrong aboard the aircraft?  Can they?

Most of these arguments are academic and have been since November 1985 when Hoadley led a team of investigators on a series of raids in Vancouver, Kamloops, B.C and Vancouver Island.

Among those arrested and questioned at the time was Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Duncan mechanic who was later proven to have bought some of the items which were similar to the ones found at Narita. Reyat was convicted of manslaughter in the Narita bombing and later charged in connection with the Air India conspiracy.

In the 1985 raids carried out by a team of RCMP officers, several others were arrested, questioned and released. One was Talwinder Singh Parmar – the chief of the Babbar Khalsa terrorist group in Canada. Parmar left Canada and made his way to Pakistan where he enjoyed the hospitality of the Pakistani government agencies responsible for fomenting trouble inside India. In Oct. 1992, Indian police shot Parmar dead. Indian police said Parmar had died in an encounter with Indian security officials but members of his family in Vancouver insist he was taken into custody, tortured and killed.

Also arrested and searched was Surjan Singh Gill – a man who had planted the first seeds of a Sikh separatist movement in Vancouver on behalf of the Khalistan National Council which was in the early 80s run by Dr. Jagjit Singh Chouhan who was in exile in London at that time. Gill was was never charged and presently lives in England.

Babbar Khalsa’s top man in British Columbia, Ajaib Singh Bagri – regarded as Parmar’s deputy, was also arrested in those raids and searched. He escaped charges at that time but has recently been re-arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit murder in connection with the Air India bombings.

Hardial Singh Johal, a school janitor in British Columbia and avid supporter of the movement known as Akhand Kirtani Jatha was also searched in the 1985 raids. He is the man whose telephone number turned up on those two tickets booked for the flights. Johal was arrested and questioned again when RCMP laid charges against Reyat and Bagri in connection with the Air India disaster. Johal was released but died of natural causes recently. He had been, it is believed,  one of the masterminds of the bombings.  It is known that he was at Vancouver Airport on the morning the two deadly bags were checked in.

Also arrested recently is businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik who founded the Khalsa Credit Union and the Khalsa School in the Vancouver area. Malik faces charges of conspiracy and is to be tried along with Bagri and Reyat.

Many others have escaped prosecution and are unlikely to face an accounting for lack of evidence.

The Canadian government took drastic steps soon after the Air India tragedy to plug gaping holes in security at the airports in the country.  It revoked an earlier decision to remove police patrols from the airports and ordered X-ray equipment in to check bags before they leave Canada.  The ban door was shut, shortly after the horse bolted.

Interlining of bags is not permitted at all now when the bags are connecting onto international flights.  Passengers are now required to re-board their baggage at the final point of departure from Canada, where proper counts can be taken to ensure that all passengers have boarded the aircraft.  And when a passenger goes missing, everyone is forced out onto the tarmac to take stock of their baggage, so that the bag of a missing passenger will not fly without him.  That of course will not eliminate a suicidal terrorist.  But it does eliminate cowardly terrorists like M. and L. Singh, who considered their own lives so precious that they did not board the aircrafts with their bags.  M. Singh was actually seen lifting his bag gingerly as he stood in the lineup at Vancouver Airport on Saturday 22 June.  The man behind him said he would just push his own bag along with his foot.  But M. Singh, whoever he is, would pick his up and set it down gently every time the line inched forward.

Two days after the Air India disaster X-ray machines suddenly appeared at Vancouver Airport.  There were no checks made of checked-in baggage previously, but now all bags are X-rayed before being put on board.  In Toronto, similarly, passengers arriving at Terminal One now must take their own luggage to Terminal Two to ensure that there will be no more M. Singhs and L. Singhs taking advantage of security loopholes.

Tragically, though, the twin disasters could have been averted if Canadian authorities had listened to the Canadian Airline Flight Attendants Association in 1983.  Larry Le Blanc, national president, made a series of recommendations to ensure security of passengers.  Among those recommendations was this memo to a government task force:

‘In many parts of Europe, all checked baggage is screened by X-ray before it is loaded into the aircraft.  We believe this practice should be mandatory at all Canadian airports.  Furthermore, passengers should not be allowed to check their own baggage.  Procedures should be implemented to prevent individuals other than airport employees from placing a suitcase on the baggage conveyor belt.’

The reason for not implementing those changes in 1983 was money.  But the total cost of investigating the Air India and Narita bombs is likely to exceed 50 million dollars to the Canadian taxpayer.  Furthermore, civil litigation and inquiries in India, Japan, England and Ireland will probably raise the total tab, including the insurance payments for the Air India jet, to the order of $400 million or more.

Money aside, those Canadians and Indians and Japanese who were so brutally killed would probably still be alive if Canadian airports had been better secured.

And Vancouver wouldn’t have earned the black mark of being the city where the world’s worst terrorist attack of its kind was launched.