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Investigation into the Kanishka Bombing 1985

The arrest of three Sikh terrorists in Vancouver, Canada for their alleged role in the bombing of an Air India (AI) flight on June 23, 1985 marks a crucial stage in the 15-year investigation carried out by the Canadian authorities in cooperation with the Indian government into the incident. The AI flight 182 Kanishka on June 23, 1985 from Toronto with a brief stopover at Montreal was en route to New Delhi when it exploded off, the coast of Ireland while it was preparing to land at the Heathrow airport. The mid-air explosion which killed all the 329 people on board is widely considered to be one of the world's deadliest acts of terrorism and civilian aviation sabotage. Investigations reveal that it was one of two related bomb explosions allegedly carried out by Sikh terrorists. The other explosion occurred at the Narita airport in Tokyo killing two people.

The long drawn-out investigation, still in progress, into the AI flight bombing has been carried out by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in conjunction with police authorities in India, North America, Europe and Asia. After a 15-year probe, the RCMP on October 27, 2000 arrested two Sikh terrorists based in Canada for their alleged role in the incident. The RCMP arrested another unidentified suspect on October 29, 2000 and released him on bail after interrogating him for nearly 24 hours. The two terrorists arrested on October 27 identified as Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri have been remanded to judicial custody in Vancouver. Two other terrorist, Talwinder Singh Parmar and Inderjit Singh Reyat have been declared as co-conspirators in both the incidents. Talwinder Singh Parmar, a Babbar Khalsa terrorist was killed by the Punjab Police in 1992. Inderjit Singh Reyat was sentenced in 1991 to serve a 10-year imprisonment for manufacturing the bomb intended to blow-up the AI flight. Both Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri been charged on eight counts including criminal conspiracy and fist-degree murder.

Canadian authorities after protracted investigations have made a preliminary ascertainment to the effect that the flight was destroyed through a bomb that passed through the security-check at the Vancouver airport onto a Canadian Pacific airline. The bomb then found its way to the AI flight Kanishka in Toronto. Indications are that an unidentified suspect brought air tickets in Vancouver that allowed the two bomb-laden suitcases to pass through airport security. No passenger boarded the flight with these tickets. One of the two suitcases was transferred in Toronto to AI flight 182. The other suitcase was to have been transferred to an AI flight from Japan to India. But, the bomb exploded prematurely at the Narita airport in Tokyo killing two baggage handlers. The unidentified suspect was arrested in Canada as early as November 1985 but was released due to lack of evidence. Inderjit Singh Reyat was found guilty of manslaughter and making explosive substances among other charges and received a 10-years sentence and a firearm prohibition of 5 years for his role in the Narita airport incident.

The Canadian authorities, in the aftermath of the bombing, suspected Sikh terrorists of planting the bombs in revenge for 'Operation Blue Star', the 1984 security forces raid aimed at flushing out terrorists from the Golden temple in Amritsar. According to an RCMP spokesperson, the bombings were planned and organised in Canada. The Canadian probe, the longest and one of the costliest - the RCMP is reported to have already incurred an expenditure of 30 million Canadian dollars - was also a complex investigative process as it had too many people to interrogate in various countries. Moreover, in the initial phase, the authorities were unsure about the place or origin of the bombs - Canada, India or elsewhere. In the light of the evidence gathered so far and the recent arrests, the RCMP is in the process of planning arrests of at least four other suspects. The RCMP also believes that the release of a third suspect-although unidentified, sources claim that it was Hardiyal Singh Johal, a 'prominent ' member of the Sikh community in British Columbia- would not be a setback to the ongoing investigation process and the formal charging of the suspects in the British Columbia Supreme Court.

Immediately after the 1985 bombing of the Kanishka, the Indian government had instituted the Justice B.N Kirpal Commission of Inquiry. The main agenda of the Kirpal Commission was to explore whether AI flight 182 had crashed due to an explosion, a machine failure, or human error. It arrived at a clear conclusion that the AI flight had exploded in mid-air and had fallen into the ocean because of a bomb which had planted in Canada. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which had assisted the RCMP in its probe also constituted a investigation process. The CBI findings established that the bombing was the handiwork of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), a terrorist outfit in Punjab and the mastermind was Talwinder Singh Parmar, a frontranking leader of the same outfit. Since the main area of investigation is in Canada, the CBI was largely associated in collecting information, documents and evidence sought by the RCMP.

Official sources in India have reported that the while the Indian government views the arrests of the terrorists as a positive development, it would wait for the completion of the probe by the Canadian authorities before deciding on any future course of action. Reports also indicate that the government has so far not made any official request for the extradition of the arrested suspects as the offence was committed in Canada and the trial is also due to take place in the same country. Moreover, there are no proceedings pending against the arrested terrorists in India.

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