| Malik (top), Bagri
Toronto, April 27 (PTI): Nearly 18 years after the bombing of an Air-India flight that killed 329 people, the trial of two main accused in the biggest act of terrorism in Canadian history begins tomorrow amid tight security.
Ripudaman Singh Malik, a businessman, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, a mill worker, have each been charged on eight counts, including conspiracy, attempted murder and murder in connection with the June 23, 1985, bombing of the Kanishka flight off the coast of Ireland, killing all on board. The flight was en route to New Delhi from Vancouver.
They are also co-accused in another blast at Tokyo’s Narita airport earlier the same day. Two baggage handlers were killed when a suitcase, which was to be loaded on to another Air-India plane, exploded.
A third accused in the case, Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to his role in the Air-India flight 182 bombing in February last year and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He had been convicted for manslaughter in 1991 in the Narita blast case.
The Kanishka bombing was considered the world’s worst air tragedy before the September 11 attacks in the US.
Other suspects in the case are dead. The purported ringleader, Talwinder Singh Parmer, was killed in a shootout with police in India.
A US $5-million bullet-proof courtroom has been constructed in Vancouver for the trials, which are expected to continue into 2004. Bagri and Malik have opted for trial by a judge instead of a jury to shorten the trial’s duration.
The trial is expected to grab worldwide media attention with over 150 journalists from 10 countries applying to cover it.
But the number of victims’ relatives attending the first week of the hearings may not be so large even though the attorney-general’s ministry has offered to pay them expenses to attend the trial for a week, said Geoffrey Gaul, spokesman for the team of Air-India prosecutors.
He said only nine families have made arrangements to attend the first week of hearings but added this was not due to lack of interest.
“They are entitled to attend for a week, so why come for a short week,” Gaul asked. Only three sittings have been scheduled in the first week, Monday through Wednesday.
“The numbers will climb as we move into a full week,” he said.
Gaul said a team of 14 prosecutors had worked 17 years to get the material ready for the trial. “It was a huge, huge task,” he said.