By Salim Jiwa
VANCOUVER – Key players in the sinister plot which destroyed Air India Flight 182 in mid-flight over the Atlantic ocean on June 23, 1985 remain unidentified even as the trial of two men begins in Vancouver today.
Among the key players still unknown to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Air India Task Force are the two men who callously boarded bag bombs at Vancouver International Airport a few hours apart on June 22, 1985. Both men, identified by their tickets as M. Singh and L. Singh, failed to board their flights after their bags were successfully checked in.
The bag checked-in by M. Singh exploded aboard Air India Flight 182 as the Boeing 747 cruised at an altitude of 31,000 feet, killing all 329 passengers and crew aboard the Jumbo jet.
The second bag, checked in by L. Singh, made a dangerous 10-hour journey aboard CP Air Flight 003 from Vancouver to Tokyo. It was destined for an Air India Flight scheduled to depart Tokyo with 270 passengers but exploded in the terminal building instead killing two baggage handlers and injuring four.
Despite investigations in India and Canada, RCMP still has no clue who the two men were even though dozens of possible leads have been checked out.
The Air India bombing, according to extensive worldwide investigations, was the joint project of at least two, if not three terrorist groups with extensive membership at that time in Canada, the US, England, and India. A group of Sikh militants running on emotional fuel sparked by the attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar in June 1984, decided to blow up two Air India airplanes almost simultaneously in different parts of the world.
Still unaccounted for is another key player. He is the man known to police alternately as The Third Man or the UM (Unknown Male) who accompanied Babar Khalsa terrorist Talwinder Singh Parmar on a ferry ride from Vancouver to Duncan on Vancouver Island where Parmar was scheduled to inspect an explosive device manufactured by his ally Inderjit Singh Reyat.
The Canadian Security Intelligence Service was following Parmar on June 4, 1985 as he and a youthful man emerged from Parmar’s home and were driven to the ferry terminal by long-time Parmar supporter Surjan Singh Gill – the man who established the consulate of Khalistan in Vancouver in 1981.
Investigators know that the Third Man remained in Duncan with Reyat after Parmar was shown a bush bomb experiment. CSIS agents who heard the boom in the bush and subsequently reported the matter to the RCMP have been unable to positively identify the man and neither have the RCMP.
In November 1985, Inderjit Singh Reyat admitted to police the man stayed at his home for a few days. However, Reyat had a hard time remembering who he was because he said Sikhs call each other “pratji” – meaning brother. Pressed to remember, he said was unsure but thought the man’s name was Surjit Singh – a teacher possibly from the Toronto area.
Police have a bunch of suspects but have not managed to pin down the identity of the UM.
It is believed Reyat will continue to claim he gave away bomb parts to the UM and did not himself build the two bombs. It is expected Reyat will be called to testify but most experts doubt Reyat will say any more about who the mystery man was.
Also unknown positively so far is who picked up the tickets from CP Air’s downtown office after paying $3005 in cash. An agent who sold the tickets said the man wore a large saffron turban and had a wad of cash and the names of two passengers written on a piece of paper. Suspicions about the man’s identity have not materialized into evidence and no charges have been laid in relation to the ticket pickup.
DEATHS COMPLICATE CASE
Complicating the case is the fact that key members of the plot are dead.
In 1992, agents of the government of India killed Parmar when he entered their country from Pakistan on a terror mission. The death restricted RCMP’s ability to pursue inquiries relating to Parmar’s knowledge of the bombing.
More recently, a Vancouver adherent of a fundamentalist prayer group, Hardial Singh Johal also died. CSIS wiretaps indicate he had received instructions from Parmar to “write the story” just moments before a man telephoned CP Air and booked two tickets. The phone number left behind with CP Air booking agents was Johal’s former number. Johal was also seen at Vancouver Airport on the morning the two bags were checked in but was never charged for lack of sufficient evidence.
Also dead is Parmar’s ticket agent, Amarjit Singh Pawa who usually ran around and made reservations whenever Parmar was flying. RCMP was hoping Pawa would make a death bed statement while he was acutely ill from liver disease but this did not materialize.
CASE TO HINGE ON THREE WITNESSES
In the absence of any DNA, smoking gun, material evidence of a bomb on Air India, or any forensics and wiretaps, the crown will rely on three key witnesses in an attempt to convict Vancouver sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri who was a member of the Babar Khalsa, and Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik.
Bagri and Malik have been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder as well as conspiracy.
Both the crown and the media have made much of a fiery speech delivered by Bagri at Madison Square Garden in New York following the Golden Temple attack in which he essentially declared war on India.
However, such speeches were commonplace around that time as this author went around various places where Sikhs congregated in the heated months following the Golden Temple attack which left millions of Sikhs in tears. One such fiery speech – in the style of Winston Churchill – was made by former Vancouver editor Tara Singh Hayer at a Seattle Sikh Temple in June of 1985 – a few days before the Air India bombing.
Gathered at the temple near Seattle and in the company of other fellow militants, Hayer made a boisterous speech calling on Sikhs to fight the government of India in the streets, in the wards, and in the villages to avenge the Golden Temple attack.
Ironically, Bagri is also charged in connection with a plot to kill Hayer in 1988 when a youth shot the separatist newspaper editor and left him paralyzed.
Hayer, one of the founders of Sikh militancy in Canada, and a former Indian army officer with the rank of Captain, was subsequently killed in an attack outside his home in November 1998 while local Sikhs were embroiled in a dispute over whether temple meals should be eaten on the floor or while sitting at tables and chairs. It is believed he was killed for using foul language in his newspaper toward the religious chief of the Golden Temple.
Written by Salim Jiwa
Author of “The Death of Air India Flight 182”
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