Man Gets 5 Years in Air India Bombing
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) _ A Sikh man who acquired the materials for a bomb that killed 329 people aboard an Air India flight in 1985 pleaded guilty to manslaughter Monday and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Inderjit Singh Reyat, 51, is one of three suspects charged in what is considered Canada’s worst mass murder. Two other Sikh suspects still face first-degree murder and conspiracy charges.
Originally charged with one count of first-degree murder, Reyat pleaded guilty during a unscheduled hearing to a single manslaughter charge representing all the victims.
Air India Flight 182 from Montreal to New Delhi exploded over the Atlantic Ocean near Great Britain on June 23, 1985. Most of the victims were Canadian.
An hour earlier, a bomb in baggage intended for another Air India flight exploded in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers. Reyat, who holds British and Canadian citizenship, already served 10 years in a British prison for manslaughter in the Narita Airport blast.
Canadian investigators believe both bombs came from British Columbia, which is home to about half of Canada’s 200,000 Sikhs. They suspect Sikh militants of planting the bombs in revenge for India’s 1984 raid on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the seat of faith for India’s Sikh minority.
In Washington, the Sikh Council on Religion and Education condemned the bombing and said it feared it would lead to violence against Sikhs.
``His confession has sent a shock wave in the Sikh community worldwide. It is a blatant act of terrorism and we strongly condemn it,″ council president Rajwant Singh said in a news release. ``In the aftermath of the tragedy of Sept. 11, many Sikhs became target of hate crimes in the West because of our turbans and beards.″
Noting that Reyat has been held since his arrest in 1988, prosecutor Robert Wright recommended the five-year sentence, which was accepted by Chief Justice Donald Brenner.
The court said Reyat was guilty of aiding and abetting in the making of the bomb but that he lacked any knowledge of who put the explosive device on the airplane.
``There’s no evidence Mr. Reyat intended to kill anybody, nor is there any evidence he had any knowledge the bomb would be placed on Flight 182,″ the judge said.
Reyat stood to hear the punishment but shook his head when asked if he wanted to speak.
Reyat’s plea raised speculation he would testify against the other two suspects _ Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri _ in a trial expected to begin March 31.
David Gibbons, Reyat’s lawyer, said his client had no intention of testifying but could be subpoenaed.
Gibbons added that Reyat was sorry for his role in the bombing.
``He thinks about it every day,″ Gibbons said. ``Remorse is not a word large enough to get near what he feels for their (the families of victims) sorrow. It’s a huge tragedy. He’s been remorseful all along.″
While some relatives of victims said they hoped the case was moving closer to resolution, others called Reyat’s sentence an insult.
``The Canadian government is slapping our faces,″ said Sushila Rauthan, 53, whose husband and 17-year-old daughter died in the bombing. ``They should return my husband and my daughter and we will tell them not to punish″ Reyat.
Canada has spent more than $4.6 million to fortify the basement courtroom for the trial.
Bulletproof glass separated the judge, court officers, lawyers and defendants from the gallery, and Reyat sat in a special defendants’ box also encased in bulletproof glass. Dozens of armed security officers kept watch.
Malik, a millionaire businessman from Vancouver, and Bagri, a Sikh cleric from Kamloops, British Columbia, were arrested in October 2000 on charges of conspiracy and first-degree murder connected with the airline bombing.
The investigation of the bombings were the largest and most expensive undertaken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, with the total cost estimated to exceed $20 million.