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An International Whodunit
A review of Loss of Faith: How the Air-India Bombers Got Away with Murder by Kim Bolan (McClelland & Stewart; September 13, 2005; pp. 388; $27.95).
The Brandon Sun, Vancouver, Oct. 16, 2005
Photo: Loss of Faith
In her new book, Loss of Faith: How the Air-India Bombers Got Away with Murder, Kim Bolan gives her account of the plot that downed Air India Flight 182 in June 1985, killing all 329 aboard over the Irish Sea.
Bolan has been on the story since the plane vanished from Irish radar, assigned to cover it as a rookie reporter for the Vancouver Sun. She has doggedly covered the case through to the acquittals March 16 in B.C. Supreme Court of Vancouver millionaire Ripudman Singh Malik and Kamloops, B.C., millworker Ajaib Singh Bagri.
The author is critical of Justice Ian Josephson's 600-page verdict in that lengthy trial, calling it 'shallow and superficial.' She maintains in the book that it wasn't reasonable that Malik and Bagri had an 'ongoing close association' with the convicted bomb maker as well as the man said to be the mastermind 'but were not involved in the conspiracy.'
Bolan has received death threats because of her coverage. Her house has been shot at and her family needed police protection.
At one point, she received a note that said: 'You die like Gandhi woman,' a reference to the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.
Loss of Faith is a tautly told international whodunit that led Bolan across three continents, to India four times.
With its tales of supposed Sikh revenge against the Indian government for its raid on the Sikh Golden temple at Amritsar in 1984, its colourful cast of characters, stories of taboo love affairs, tales of killings purportedly to silence witnesses and the murderous climax, the book is an example of that old saying that fact is often stranger than fiction.
Josephson acknowledged Talwinder Singh Parmar, leader of the now-banned Babbar Khalsa terror group, as the mastermind behind the bombings.
Parmar died in an alleged shootout with Indian police in 1992. Bolan disputes the Indian version of his death.
A key figure in Bolan's tale is a woman who is identified by the pseudonym Rani Kumar.
The woman, whose identity is shielded by court order, said she and Malik were in love. And, she told the court, Malik confessed his involvement in the bombings.
Josephson dismissed her evidence, citing inconsistencies in her testimony and repeated references to information already known to the public. In addition, he wondered why she had waited months before telling police about the alleged confession.
'My whole life ruined, and on top of it, I am called a liar,' Kumar told Bolan.
Kumar will spend the rest of her life in a witness protection program, isolated from friends and family.
Then there is the mystery F.B.I. informant 'John,' a member of another Sikh terror group who says Bagri confessed his involvement outside a New Jersey gas station. He took hundreds of thousands of dollars for his testimony.
Josephson dismissed that as well, saying he was 'willing to engage in deception and lies, even under penalty of perjury, whenever he believed it would advance his self interest.'
The judge's verdict came after he sat for more than 19 months and heard 115 witnesses. He dismissed most of the witnesses as lacking credibility, going so far as to label Inderjit Singh Reyat, the convicted bomb-maker, 'an unmitigated liar,' for his testimony.
But Bolan writes: 'It wasn't reasonable that both Malik and Bagri had an ongoing close association with both Parmar and Reyat before and after the bombings but were not involved in the conspiracy.'
Malik and Bagri refused to be interviewed for the book, Bolan says.
Bolan has had the support of the mainstream Sikh community in B.C. who have told her it is her sewa, her service, to continue to tell the story.
And, she says, it is a story Canadians need to recognize as one of international terrorism far predating the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in New York.
One of the most telling moments for Bolan was when reporters were taken in sealed police vans to view the recovered wreckage of the plane at a secret Vancouver warehouse.
'I was filled with sadness as I stood there,' she writes. 'I wished all Canadians could have seen the absolute devastation wreaked by the bombing.'
'Maybe then they would understand the magnitude of the calamity.'
After the verdict, she was put under police escort, her children sent out of the country.
She still worries there may be some retribution but says the truth must be told.