20:27 - (SA)
TORONTO, Canada (AP) -- The long-awaited Air India
inquiry opened Monday with emotional testimony from families of
those killed 20 years ago in Canada's worst case of mass murder.
Mark Freiman, chief counsel of the probe, said testimony from
relatives and rescue personnel involved in the June 23, 1985,
crash of an Air India passenger jet off Ireland would be
excruciatingly painful for the families, but would put a human
face on terrorism.
"It takes a great deal of courage to speak in a public forum
about matters that reach into the innermost parts of one's
being," Freiman told the opening of the commission in Ottawa.
The flight was brought down by a bomb believed to have been
planted by Sikh extremists campaigning for a homeland in
northern India. The 329 dead included 280 Canadian citizens,
most of them of Indian origin or descent.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Major is heading up the
probe, after the country's longest and costliest investigation
and a two-year trial ended in acquittals. Relatives of the
victims were devastated by the verdicts and demanded the
Major has said the probe is the only route left to find out
why the bombing was not prevented, why intelligence and police
agencies bungled the investigation and how to head off future
terrorist attacks against Canadian citizens.
Major has set aside the first three weeks of hearings for
family members who want to speak about their long quest for
justice. The first witness was Bal Gupta, a Toronto-area
engineer who lost his wife in the bombing and has campaigned for
years for just this kind of inquiry.
"The facts are very grim," Gupta said. "Twenty-nine families
were completely wiped out; 32 families were left alone with only
one spouse; eight couples lost all of their children and two
children lost both of their parents."
Gupta, wiping tears away and blowing his nose, talked about
how he identified the body of his wife and those of friends and
their children at a makeshift morgue. He said he and his late
wife, Rama, had been married for more than 20 years and had two
"My son and I spent a few minutes of prayer alone, with the
body of my wife," he said, covering his eyes with his hands.
"The perpetrators of their heinous crime, conceived and executed
in Canada and on Canadians, are still roaming free to commit
more terrorist attacks."
Major intends to examine the turf wars between the Royal
Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence
Service, the country's spy agency, which hampered the initial
investigation of the bombing.
The deep diving
bot that inspected the AI182
He will also consider whether three-judge panels should
preside at high-profile terrorist trials, rather than the usual
single judge. He will examine broader issues still relevant
today, such as airline security and terrorist financing.
While the commission has wide powers of subpoena, it cannot
find guilt nor make any award.
Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to London, originating in
Vancouver, exploded and crashed off Ireland. An hour earlier, a
bomb in baggage intended for another Air India flight exploded
in Tokyo's Narita airport, killing two baggage handlers.
The prosecution claimed the bombings were acts of revenge by
Sikh separatists in retaliation for a deadly 1984 raid by Indian
forces on the Golden Temple at Amritsar, the holiest site of
Two Indian-born Sikhs, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh
Bagri, were acquitted in March 2005 when Supreme Court Justice
Ian Josephson ruled there was not enough evidence against them.
A third man in the case, alleged bomb-maker Inderjit Singh
Reyat, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and was
sentenced to five years in jail in 2003 after a plea bargain in
which he was supposed to testify against Malik and Bagri.
Instead, he infuriated the court when he took the stand and
claimed to know nothing about anyone or anything. He now faces a
perjury charge in a trial due to begin next May.