Air India Bomber Reyat Freed, Victim Families 'Disappointed'


IANS

Vancouver, Jul 10: The families of the victims of the 1985 Air India bombing Wednesday expressed disappointment over the release of jailed bomber Inderjit Singh Reyat by the British Columbia court of appeal.

They were joined by British Columbia province's Indian-origin attorney general Wally Oppal who also expressed his disappointment over bail for Reyat.

"Because of the nature of the crime that was committed, because the lawyers in the ministry felt it would be contrary to the public interest to have him released; as well, there was concern on the part of the lawyers relating to his background," Oppal told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Toronto-based Bal Gupta, who lost his wife in the bombing and was instrumental in bringing together the families of the 329 victims under the banner of the Air India Victims Families Association, said it was "another very disappointing day" for them.

"We were not expecting it at all. But this has happened today. We all are very disappointed with this man getting out on bail. After all, he was the only person jailed for the bombing," Gupta told IANS.

Asked what steps, if any, they planned to take in protest, he said, "There is not much we can do. But this man soon faces another trial on perjury charges and we hope he will be back in jail soon."

Susheel Gupta, spokesman of the Air India Victims Families Association, said Wednesday's court decision was another blow to them.

"What does worry me is that as recently as the last parole hearing that was held for Reyat, those individuals entrusted to determine if he is eligible for parole felt that releasing him would be a risk to the community," he told Canadian Television.

Lata Pada of Toronto's famous Samparadaya Dance Academy, who lost her husband and two daughters in the bombing, refused to say anything.

"I have no reaction.I am not interested in talking about it.I will say when I know and read the whole thing," she told IANS.

Background

After spending 20 years in jail, Inderjit Singh Reyat, the only person jailed for the 1985 Kanishka plane bombing, was granted bail by the British Columbia court of appeal here.

Since his supporters and family could not arrange the unspecified heavy amount of bail, he was not released till late Wednesday.

All 329 people on board were killed when the Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to Delhi was blown off the Irish coast June 23, 1985. The bombing was carried out Canada-based Babbar Khalsa to avenge the Indian Army operation at the Golden Temple in June 1984 to flush out militant leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers who had taken refuge in Sikhism's holiest shrine.

The Air India bombing was the worst aviation disaster till the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States.Reyat was the only person jailed for his role in the bombing, while two other suspects - Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri based here - were acquitted.

Reyat completed his five-year jail term Feb 9, but he was not released as he faced another trial for lying as a witness at the trial of Malik and Bagri in 2003. That trial will now start in January.

Before this five-year term, Reyat had also spent 10 years in jail - from 1991 to 2001 - for his role in making the bomb that killed two baggage handlers at Japan's Narita airport the same day Kanishka was blown up mid-air June 23, 1985. That bomb too was meant for another Air India flight from Tokyo to Bombay. But because of delayed flight, it went off at Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers.

Indian-born Reyat, 55, who was raised in Britain and moved to Canada in the mid-1970s, was roped in the Air India bombing by plot mastermind and Babbar Khalsa leader Talwinder Singh Parmar to avenge Operation Bluestar - the codename for the army action - Being an electrician, he was used by Parmar to test the bombs intended for Air India.

While testing these bombs in the jungles of Vancouver Islands, the two and one Mr. X were watched by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

Reyat was picked up by police immediately after the Air India bombing. On his release without being charged, he went back to Engand in 1986. However, when his role was proved in the Tokyo bomb blast, he was extradited, tried and jailed for 10 years.

On his release in 2001, he entered into a bargain plea for pleading guilty to charges of manslaughter (for making the bomb) in the Kanishka bombing. This got him another five years in jail from Feb 2003.

During this incarceration, he appeared as a prosecution witness at the trial of Air India suspects - Ripudaman Singh and Ajaib Singh Bagri. But he lied 27 times during his five-day testimony, provoking the judge to call him "an unmitigated liar." Malik and Bagri walked away free.

The perjury indictment lists that Reyat lied when he told the court that he didn't know Air India plot mastermind Parmar was a terrorist who led Babbar Khalsa, and that he had no knowledge of the Sikh problem in India. He also lied when he said that Parmar had asked him "to make one explosive device" while he actually made two that blew up Kanishka and killed two baggage handlers in Tokyo.

And the Air India trial in Vancouver, which only resulted in acquittal of Malik and Bagri in March 2005, was the costliest in Canadian legal history, costing more than $130 million.

  

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