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Malik, Bagri not guilty in Air India bombings

Vancouver, March 16, 2005

Ripudiman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri have both been found not guilty of all eight criminal charges connected to a pair of deadly blasts directed at Air India airliners in 1985.

According to reporters watching proceedings in a Vancouver courtroom Wednesday afternoon, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson said he believed the prosecution theory that both bombs had originated in Vancouver.

His verdict, however, hinged on the strength of the evidence the prosecution presented to support their case.

Alleged confessions from the Crown's key witness -- a former employee of Malik known as Mrs. X -- failed to support their arguments, he said.

Josephson's verdict comes nearly 20 years after 331 people died in a pair of blasts targeting Air India airliners.

Senseless Act

Addressing the heavily-guarded Vancouver courtroom packed with reporters and relatives of both victims and the accused, Justice Josephson prefaced his ruling Wednesday with some of his thoughts on the case.

"This summary does not attempt to capture the whole of judgment," Josephson said, adding that, "Words are incapable of capturing the senseless act of these crimes."

The deadly bombings, he said, found their "roots in fanaticism at its most base and inhumane level."

The two B.C. residents were charged in Oct. 2000, almost 15 years after a mid-air bomb blast sent the Mumbai-bound Flight 182 hurtling from 31,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland.

All 329 passengers and crew, including more than 80 children, were killed.

Less than an hour earlier, at Tokyo, Japan's Narita airport, two baggage handlers died and four others were injured when a bomb detonated inside a bag being loaded onto Air India flight 301.

During trial, Crown prosecutors argued that Malik and Bagri, both Sikh extremists, planted the bombs as revenge killings for a deadly Indian attack on the holy Sikh Golden Temple of Amritsar in 1984.

In turn, the defence conceded the possibility of a conspiracy to destroy the two planes, but denied Malik and Bagri had any involvement.

The only other person charged and convicted in connection with the 1985 bombings is Inderjit Singh Reyat.

He had been slated to stand trial alongside Malik and Bagri, but in February 2003, he pleaded guilty to a reduced manslaughter charge.

Admitting that he supplied parts for the bomb that brought down Flight 182, he was sentenced to five years. Reyat had already been convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for his part in the Narita airport explosion.

Later, when he was called as a witness in the trial, Reyat said he had bought parts to make a bomb without knowing who was going to use them.

Investigators maintain that the deadly plot had been hatched by the B.C.-based founder of the Sikh militant group Babbar Khalsa, Talwinder Singh Parmar. He was reported killed in a shootout with Indian police in October 1992.

Before the Sept. 2001, attacks in the United States, the 1985 Air India bombing bore the grim distinction of being the single deadliest modern act of terror. It still stands as history's deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner.

With files from CTV News and The Canadian Press

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