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Salim Jiwa: Air-India Bombing Masterminded by Johal


The Globe and Mail, Vancouver, May 11, 2006

A new book on the Air-India disaster says a suspect who died four years ago without being charged in the case was one of the key architects and the most active player in the terrorist bombing plot that killed 331 people.

Hardial Singh Johal was involved in booking tickets used to put the bombs on airplanes and was at the Vancouver airport when baggage carrying the bombs was checked onto planes connecting with Air-India flights, Vancouver journalist Salim Jiwa writes in Margin of Terror: A Reporter's Twenty-Year Odyssey Covering the Tragedies of the Air India Bombing.

Mr. Johal was in contact with Sikh militant Talwinder Singh Parmar when the tickets were booked and again three days later, shortly after the bags were checked in at the airport.

Phone records indicated terrorist Inderjit Singh Reyat was at Mr. Johal's home after the bombs were delivered to the airport, Mr. Jiwa says in the book.

'I consider [Mr. Johal] to be the brain of the operation, the instigator and the project chief who enforced Parmar's 'executive action,' ' Mr. Jiwa writes.

Mr. Johal was the only suspect known to be at the crime scene, Mr. Jiwa added in an interview yesterday.

Mr. Johal likely did more than anyone else to carry out the plot, he said.

Mr. Johal, who worked as a janitor at a Vancouver high school, died in 2002 of natural causes. Mr. Parmar, the religious leader of a militant Sikh separatist group, Babbar Khalsa, was killed by police in a shootout in Punjab in 1992.

The Air-India disaster on June 23, 1985, remains the most deadly unsolved crime in Canadian history. Two bombs boarded on flights in Vancouver exploded hours later on opposite sides of the world.

Mr. Reyat is the only person convicted in the case; he was sentenced to five years in prison in 2003 for manslaughter and assisting in bomb construction. When he pleaded guilty to the charges, he told the court that he provided items used in the bombs but did not make the devices and did not know they were going to be used to blow up Air-India planes.

Without further convictions in court, the role of others remains open to speculation.

So little is known about some aspects of the crime that few can even guess at who may have carried the actions out.

The identity of those who checked in the bags, and the person who helped Mr. Reyat test a bomb three weeks before the explosion, remain among the biggest unanswered questions.

R.C.M.P. Staff Sergeant John Ward said yesterday that the Mounties are continuing to work on the case. Most recently, 12 officers were involved in pursuing the investigation, he said.

He declined to comment on Mr. Jiwa's book or Mr. Johal's role. 'We have an ongoing investigation,' he said in an interview.

In the 1980s, the R.C.M.P. identified Mr. Parmar as the mastermind behind the plot.

The police alleged that Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri were central figures, but the two men were acquitted of murder charges last year.

The court decided that witnesses testifying against Mr. Bagri and Mr. Malik were not credible.

Staff Sgt. Ward said the acquittals did not change the police perspective on the case and the role of Mr. Parmar.

Mr. Jiwa, a journalist with the Province newspaper in Vancouver, has reported since 1981 on activities in the city's Sikh community. In Margin of Terror, he offers a significantly different view than the official R.C.M.P. account of who was responsible for the Air-India disaster.

He writes that Mr. Johal phoned him two months after the bombing to divert suspicion that was directed at him at that time.

Mr. Jiwa says he felt that 'all roads from Parmar's home led to this man [Mr. Johal] as a central figure in the crime.'

Mr. Johal should have been charged in the conspiracy, he writes.

Mr. Jiwa speculates that Mr. Johal was not among those brought to court in the Air-India case because the charges would have undermined the prosecution of Mr. Malik.

One star prosecution witness testified that Mr. Malik confessed to her that he, not Mr. Johal, had booked the tickets.

'They overlooked Johal,' Mr. Jiwa said yesterday. Mr. Malik 'became the biggest fish, but it really was Johal who was the biggest fish.'