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Witness says Air India warning ignored

A witness testified before the inquiry commission that Canadian security agencies did not take the threat to Air India flights before the Kanishka bombing.

world Updated: Dec 08, 2007 13:54 IST

Canadian Security agencies did not take the threat to Air India flights seriously before the Kanishka bombing that killed all 329 people on board in 1985, a witness testified before the inquiry commission probing the matter.

University of Ottawa professor William Leiss, a risk analysis expert, submitted before the commission presided by Justice John Major that a series of telexes and tips before the bombing suggesting Air India flights would be targeted should have led to a more dramatic response.

In particular, a June 1, 1985 telex sent by Air India's head office in Bombay to the Toronto Air India outlet "should have set off alarm bells," Leiss testified before the inquiry Commission.

The telex, revealed at the inquiry last May, said "assessment of threat received from intelligence agencies reveal the likelihood of sabotage attempts being undertaken by Sikh extremists by placing time delay devices in the aircraft or registered baggage" of Air India flights.

Leiss said the RCMP and other Canadian agencies should have considered stopping all Air India flights leaving Canada until the threat had been properly assessed.

Instead, a BC-built bomb made its way onto Air India Flight 182 when it left Toronto, killing all 329 aboard. A second bomb the same day exploded in a Vancouver suitcase at Tokyo's Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers.

"For this business, airline security, it is extremely rare to get such a specific piece of information," Leiss said of the June 1, 1985 telex.

"That would raise your level of concern to the highest possible level so you would be at that point pulling out all the stops. You might even ground the flights until you had a better handle on -- since it was specific to Air India -- the credibility source analysis of the information," Leiss said.

He said Canadian authorities did not have the tools to do proper risk assessment and therefore did not act accordingly to head off the worst mass murder in Canadian history.

"The intelligence has not always been so good, so this should have leapt off the page," he said. Why didn't the alarm bells just go off everywhere and what did the RCMP do with the information?"

Inquiry lawyer Brian Gover told Leiss that many believe the RCMP didn't share the information widely enough. He asked Leiss to consider the number of threats to Air India that were coming in to police in the year before the bombing.

Leiss said the cumulative effect should have led to an evaluation of the risk as being much more serious. "Just to dismiss (the threats) is a catastrophic misunderstanding of what it means to do a risk assessment," he said, adding by June of 1985, the number of threats showed "you are off the end of the scale."