‘Canada police was warned about 1985 Air India bombing’

Montreal, May 1 (DPA) Canadian police were tipped off that Sikh separatists could be plotting a terrorist attack against an India-bound flight several months before Air India flight 182 exploded, killing hundreds, a former policeman told an inquiry panel.

The testimony contradicted the official account by Canadian police, who have insisted for more than two decades that security personnel had no idea the attack was coming.

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Rick Crook, a retired Vancouver police officer, told the Ottawa courtroom Monday that an informant revealed details about the plot eight months before the airplane exploded over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ireland on June 23, 1985.

The crash claimed 329 lives, most of them Canadian citizens of Indian descent.

For 20 years, Canadian governments resisted a public inquiry, hoping to prosecute the suspects. Police believed that the bombers were affiliated with the militant Sikh separatist group Babbar Khalsa. Two suspects in the bombings were then acquitted.

The inquiry was opened last year, under pressure from victims’ families and concern that Canadian authorities had underestimated the threat posed by Sikh extremists in Canada or impeded the prosecution.

Crook testified that the informant approached him in October 1984 and tried to broker a deal to secure bail for a criminal trial he was facing for a series of liquor store robberies in the province of British Columbia.

The identity of the informant, currently serving a 12-year prison term for theft and fraud, was kept secret but the Vancouver Sun reported his name as Harmail Singh Grewal.

Crook said he didn’t consider the man to be reliable, but he passed the information to both the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Besides the plane occupants who died, two Japanese baggage handlers died on the same day when a second bomb exploded in Narita Airport, 60 km outside Tokyo.

Police allege that the bombers were part of the Sikh militant cell based in British Columbia.

Only one person has been convicted for the bombings. In 1991, Inderjit Singh Reyat was sentenced to 10 years in prison for supplying components for the bomb that exploded in Japan.

In 2003, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of manslaughter in relation to the crash of flight 182, receiving five years in prison. The light sentence was reportedly in exchange for testimony against the case’s main suspects.

Ripudaman Singh Malik, a Sikh religious leader, and Ajaib Singh Bagri, a wealthy businessman, were acquitted in 2005.

Retired Supreme Court justice John Major, who is chairing the inquiry, has stopped proceedings twice since it began in September 2006 – once when electronic documents crucial to the testimony were accidentally erased by justice department staff; a second time to protest how Canadian officials had heavily censored documents released to the tribunal.