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Canada launches broader Air India bomb inquiry

Written by: Staff

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 2 : Canada will hold a public judicial inquiry into the attack on Air India Flight 182, which killed 329 people in history's deadliest bombing of a passenger airliner, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

The broad-ranging inquiry will examine if security lapses that allowed the 1985 bombing have been fixed, and if police and Canada's spy agency have resolved problems that critics say led to a bungled criminal investigation and allowed suspects to walk free.

The probe will also examine if Canada has ''adequate constraints on terrorist financing, in, from or through Canada,'' and if the court system is prepared to handle large and lengthy criminal trials such as the Air India case.

Harper's Conservative Party had criticized the previous Liberal government for agreeing to hold only a limited inquiry into the bombing, despite demands from victims's relatives for a broader review.

''It is hoped that our action will bring a measure of closure to those who still grieve for their loved ones,'' Harper told the House of Commons in Ottawa, adding that the inquiry will begin immediately.

Unlike the Liberal plan, this probe headed by retired Canadian Supreme Court Justice John Major will have the power to subpoena witnesses.

Air India Flight 182 was destroyed on June 23, 1985, off the Irish coast, killing 329 people on a flight from Canada to India via London. A near-simultaneous attack on a second Air India flight killed two Tokyo airport workers.

Investigators allege the bombings were the work of radical Khalistan extremists living in Western Canada.

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

A third person 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 in Vancouver that he knew nothing about the bomb plot.

Harper said the inquiry was not ''reprisal'' or ''intended to go back over the criminal trial.'' Police and prosecutors have said they were not able to get enough evidence to charge other people linked to the bombings, although the investigation is still ongoing.

The criminal investigation was marked by controversy from its early stages, including charges that fighting between the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Canada's spy agency led to the destruction of potentially key evidence.

Investigators never determined the bomb maker's name, calling him ''Mr X'' in court documents, even though spies were watching Sikh militants in the Vancouver area before the bombings and observed a test of explosives.

RELATIVES PLEASED Relatives of the Flight 182 victims, most of whom were Canadian citizens going to visit families in India, complained for years the government never took the case seriously.

''This is something we've been asking for 20 years... I'm quite pleased,'' said Shusheel Gupta, whose mother was killed in the bombing.

The government said for years it was reluctant to hold an inquiry because it could disrupt the criminal investigation and trial. Lawyers in Reyat's perjury case said it was too early to say what the impact would be on their case.


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