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Reyat Pleads Guilty to Manslaughter in Air-India Bombing

Air-India Flight 182 went down off the coast of Ireland on Jun. 23, 1985, killing all 329 passengers - 278 of them Canadians - and crew on board. Custody awaiting trial is generally credited on a two-to-one basis.

The Globe and Mail, Vancouver, Feb. 11, 2003

Inderjit Singh Reyat has been sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter of 329 people in the deadliest crime in Canadian history. In an unexpected deal that could shorten the trial of two other men in the case, Mr. Reyat has admitted he acquired material for a bomb that police allege caused a mid-air explosion aboard an Air-India flight from Canada in June of 1985. He has completed a 10-year sentence for his role in a second bombing the same day. In exchange for his admission, prosecutors have accepted that he did not make the Air-India bomb, did not intend to kill anyone and does not know who placed the bomb on the plane. The bomb explosion aboard the Air-India flight is the worst terrorist attack against civilians except for Sep. 11, 2001.

Crown prosecutors agreed to drop first-degree-murder charges against Mr. Reyat, 50, an electrician, and charge him with one count of manslaughter in the 329 deaths. The judge accepted a defence recommendation for a sentence of five years in a minimum-security prison in exchange for a guilty plea. The deal, endorsed by Chief Justice Brenner is expected to reduce the length of the first-degree-murder trial of two others who were to be tried with him - Ripudaman Singh Malik of Vancouver and Ajaib Singh Bagri of Kamloops, B.C. . . . Mr. Reyat has not agreed to be a witness in the Air-India trial. But he could be subpoenaed to testify like anyone else, Mr. Reyat's lawyer, David Gibbons, said. The Crown did not say Monday whether it would call Mr. Reyat.

Despite a multimillion-dollar investigation that spanned three continents, no one until now has been convicted in connection with the crime. Mr. Reyat, who has been in custody since Feb. of 1988, has already served 10 years for manslaughter for making a bomb that killed two baggage handlers in Japan's Narita airport. That one exploded 54 minutes before the Air-India bomb. Chief Justice Brenner decided that five more years in jail for Mr. Reyat was an appropriate sentence after taking into consideration the time he has spent in custody. According to calculations based on rulings of higher courts, when his 10-year sentence and time spent in custody awaiting trial are factored in, Mr. Reyat has received the equivalent of a 25-year sentence for conviction on manslaughter charges for the Narita and Air-India deaths, he said.

Mr. [Geoffrey] Gaul [spokesman for the prosecution] declined to explain why prosecutors withdrew the murder charge and made a deal with Mr. Reyat. He said the agreement reflects the state of evidence in the proceedings. But he said he could not discuss the evidence because the two others are still to come to court and publicity about the evidence could jeopardize the prosecution's case or the accuseds' right to a fair trial. . . . A murder conviction requires proof of a subjective intent to kill, he said, while manslaughter does not. . . . The plea bargain is a setback for investigators who have alleged for almost 18 years that Mr. Reyat was part of a plot by Canadian-based Sikh militants seeking revenge against the government of India. However, his admission confirms their allegations that a bomb was made. . . . Asked whether he wanted to make any comments before he was sentenced, he declined the opportunity to apologize for his actions.

Earlier, Chief Justice Brenner was told that Mr. Reyat was under the impression that the bombs were to be sent to India to blow up property such as a car or a bridge. Bob Wright, head of the Air-India prosecution team, told the court that the evidence supports only that Mr. Reyat helped others build a bomb. 'There is no direct evidence that [Mr. Reyat] intended to kill anyone,' Mr. Wright said. Mr. Reyat provided bomb-making materials without knowing their use, he said. 'There is no evidence [Mr. Reyat] knew that a bomb was to be placed on Air-India flight 182,' Mr. Wright said. Canadian authorities became aware of Mr. Reyat as a result of a request from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. The F.B.I. had uncovered a plot to assassinate Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi during a visit to the United States. They asked Canada's spy agency to keep an eye on Talwinder Singh Parmar, a self-styled leader in Canada of a militant Sikh separatist group called Babbar Khalsa.

C.S.I.S. began tapping Mr. Parmar's phone in Mar. of 1985 and following him in early Jun. Mr. Parmar and another person came to see Mr. Reyat in Duncan, B.C., on Jun. 4, 1985. Mr. Reyat took them in his brown Mercury with vanity licence plate I REYAT into the woods a few kilometres outside town. C.S.I.S. agents who were following Mr. Parmar have said they thought they heard shots in the woods. After blasts in the Narita airport and aboard the Air-India flight, the R.C.M.P. went to the woods and found evidence that suggested a bomb had been exploded. Police linked several items used to make the two bombs to items that Mr. Reyat had bought shortly before the explosions. According to testimony at Mr. Reyat's trial for the deaths of the Japanese baggage handlers, police found that he had bought a Micronta clock - which was similar to the device used as a timer in the bomb - about a month earlier, on May 8.

After the explosion in the woods, Mr. Reyat bought two more Micronta clocks, two electric relays, a can of smokeless gunpowder and a Sanyo tuner. The bomb in Japan was placed inside a Sanyo tuner. On the day that luggage carrying the bombs was checked in at the airport, Mr. Reyat had bought two 12-volt batteries, similar to the batteries believed to have been used in the bombs. Another Duncan resident testified at the trial that Mr. Reyat had tried to buy some dynamite in May of 1985. Mr. Reyat became a target of the massive Air-India police investigation by Aug. of 1985. He was arrested on Nov. 6, 1985, along with Mr. Parmar and three other people. Police told him he was being arrested for the Air-India bombings but, after lawyers reviewed the information gathered by police, he was charged only for having an unregistered revolver and possessing dynamite. Mr. Reyat was convicted and fined $2,000. Mr. Parmar and the others were released without charges.

Crown prosecutors charged Mr. Reyat with manslaughter in the death of two Japanese baggage handlers in 1988. After a trial by judge, with 97 witnesses, he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years.