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Canada warned before 1985 bombing

Canada was warned of a plot to bomb an Air India jetliner months before the 1985 attack that killed 329 people, but police failed to act on the information.

world Updated: May 01, 2007 09:34 IST

Canada was warned of a plot to bomb an Air India jetliner months before the 1985 attack that killed 329 people, but police failed to act on the information, a hearing was told on Monday.

A witness told a government inquiry in Ottawa that police did not believe his 1984 warning that Sikh separatists in Vancouver were planning airline attacks and wanted to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

The June 23, 1985, bombing of Air India Flight 182 over the Atlantic Ocean was history's deadliest bombing of a civilian airliner. Gandhi was killed in October 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards.

"I knew they were serious," said the witness who admitted to having a criminal history, but said he approached police to save lives after being offered C$200,000 by the plotters to help them get a bomb on an aircraft.

The witness was identified only as "person No. 1" and testified behind a curtain to protect his identity.

Former Vancouver police officer Rick Crook told the hearing he was warned about a bomb plot in October 1984, while investigating an unrelated case, and passed the information along to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

The spy agency has long denied it had any advance warning of a specific attack being planned.

Crook said he got the information from a man trying to use it as leverage to get out of jail. He felt it was serious enough for national investigators to pursue, but they apparently took little action on it.

The man Crook talked to was also cited by "person No. 1" as being involved in the plot. The man's name is being kept secret by the commission.

Sikh separatists blamed for bombings

Flight 182 exploded off the Irish coast on course from Canada to India via London, killing everyone on board. A near-simultaneous attack attempt on a second Air India flight killed two workers at Tokyo's Narita airport.

Investigators allege the bombings were the work of radical Sikh separatists who wanted revenge on the Indian government for its bloody 1984 storming of the Sikh Golden Temple in the city of Amritsar.

Despite one of the longest and most expensive police investigations in Canadian history, prosecutors were unable to convict two men eventually charged with murder in connection with the Air India bombing, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri.

Canada agreed to set up an inquiry into the handling of the case after the verdict brought accusations from relatives of the Flight 182 victims that police could have prevented the attack and then bungled the investigation.

Neither of the men who testified on Monday were witnesses at Malik's and Bagri's lengthy trial. The trial did not include testimony from anyone directly involved in the bombings.

Monday's secret witness, "person No. 1", said the bombing organisers became upset with him after learning he was cooperating with the police in a separate case and suspected he had tipped investigators to the attack.

The only person to admit a role in the bombing, Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. He has since been charged with perjury for testifying at Malik's and Bagri's trial that he knew nothing about who else was involved.

First Published: May 01, 2007 09:20 IST