AI Kanishka bombing: Reyat’s release stuns victims’ kin

  • Gurpreet Singh, Hindustan Times, Vancouver
  • Updated: Jan 29, 2016 10:50 IST
Victims’ relatives offering prayers at the Kanishka memorial on the 20th anniversary of the bombing in Ahakista, Cork, Ireland, on June 23, 2005. (AFP)

The decision to release Inderjit Singh Reyat, lone convict in the Air India bombing of 1985 —worst aviation terror attack pre-9/11 — has left the victims’ families upset over not being informed before.

Anil Singh Hanse, whose father, Narendra Singh Hanse, was co-pilot of Flight 182 that exploded mid-air over the Irish Sea, says he got a clue early this month that the Canadian government was going to free Reyat on parole but he never received any confirmation through official channels. Frustrated, Hanse kept on checking with his contacts in the media, only to learn on Wednesday through news channels about the release of a man convicted thrice in the Air India case.

Reyat had served 10 years for the bombing at Tokyo’s Narita airport that left two baggage handlers dead sometime before the Air India Flight 182 perished in the air. Later, he was given five more years of imprisonment for the second blast after he pleaded guilty of manslaughter. Both blasts were part of a conspiracy blamed on the banned Babbar Khalsa terrorist group seeking revenge for Operation Bluestar and anti-Sikh riots in 1984.

Reyat, known widely as the bomb maker, was convicted for the third time for concealing the identity of a potential suspect who came to be known as Mr X, during the trial, which also led to the acquittal of accused Ripudaman Singh Malik and Babbar Khalsa leader Ajaib Singh Bagri in 2005. This led to his sentencing for lying under oath after being charged with perjury in 2006. In 2010, he was found guilty and sentenced to nine years in prison. He has now received freedom on parole under certain conditions, including that he’d keep away from groups involved in terrorist activities.

Read: Freed, Reyat to stay in a reintegration house till Aug 2018

Hanse, an Australian, now wonders who will monitor Reyat to ensure he does not associate with terrorists again. Reyat supporters’ celebrating his release makes him sceptical. Even Major Singh Sidhu, former vice-president of Vancouver Sikh Temple, feels the same. He lost his sister and a nephew and a niece in the tragedy. They were heading to India for summer vacation when the tragedy struck.

In a choked voice, he told HT he had nothing to say except that the authorities did not even feel it necessary to inform the families before taking such a big decision. “We feel deceived and hurt. The decision reflects very badly on the Canadian government that has always been soft on terrorists,” he said. He adds that the decision is political, as those in power have connections with a lobby that supports the ideology of Sikh separatists. Sidhu had joined gurdwara politics to oust fundamentalists from the management.

Similar sentiments echo in the reaction of Renee Sarojini Saklikar, who lost her aunt and uncle in the bombing. She said Rayat was free and she was disappointed to learn about it through the media instead of from the parole board. Saklikar, a noted poet based in Vancouver, has written a book, ‘Children of Air India’, dedicated to the 82 children who died in the bombing. Her aunt and uncle were returning from their Canada trip when the bombing happened.

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