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AIR INDIA BOMBING
CHAK KALAN, India (AP) - Two men who grew up in India's Punjab state and are
accused of killing 329 people in the 1985 Air India bombing were Sikh
warriors, but not killers, their relatives said.
But in another part of the province, the pilot's widow demanded harsh
punishment for the men, who were arrested by Canadian police Friday on
suspicion of masterminding the deadliest terrorist attack on an airplane.
Ajaib Singh Bagri, 51, left his village in Punjab three decades ago to seek a
living in Canada. He and Ripudaman Singh Malik, 53, are charged with
first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder,
conspiring to cause bombs to be put on aircraft and causing a bomb to be
placed on an aircraft.
``Our faith and belief in him tells us that he is innocent,'' said Bagri's
52-year-old brother Piara Singh. ``He used to worship the Sikh gods daily ...
He could not have done this mass murder.''
Bagri was taken into custody in Kamloops, about 75 miles northeast of
Vancouver. Malik was arrested in Surrey, just outside Vancouver. They were
ordered held for 30 days on Monday.
The arrests followed a 15-year investigation by Canadian police into the
bombing of Air India Flight 182, from Montreal to New Delhi off the coast of
Ireland. A separate blast in Tokyo's airport killed two baggage handlers.
Investigators said both bombs originated or were placed on flights
originating from Vancouver, and the conspiracy took place in British
Columbia, home to about half of Canada's 200,000 Sikhs.
Police there long suspected Sikh militants seeking revenge for Operation Blue
Star, the 1984 assault against militants holed up in the Golden Temple in
Amritsar, Sikhism's holiest city.
``Ajaib immigrated to Canada in 1970 when he was still a student. He was
extremely religious and would spend most of his time reciting religious Sikh
books,'' Singh said. Bagri, who worked as a carpenter in a factory in Canada,
has four daughters and a son.
``Then, in Canada, he became a Sikh warrior,'' said Mohan Singh, the village
headman. Bagri joined the Babbar Khalsa International, a separatist Sikh
group, he said.
The Sikh faith, founded in 1469 to counter the Hindu caste system, has often
been at odds with the India's rulers. Sikhs are about 2 percent of India's 1
billion people. Their men take ``Singh,'' meaning lion, as part of their
name, and the women take ``Kaur,'' or lioness.
Relatives of Malik remember him as a young devout who regularly made
donations to Sikh temples or gurudwaras, and later became a supporter of the
``Ripudaman had gone astray following Operation Blue Star ... but I cannot
imagine my nephew conspiring to kill innocent people,'' Malik's aunt Joginder
Kaur said in a telephone interview.
``I believe someone has misused the money he donated, for planting the bomb
in the plane. He is a victim of circumstances,'' she said.
But the family of Capt. S.S. Bhinder, the pilot of Flight 182, demanded tough
punishment for the accused.
``In Sikh history, our gurus have always preached against activities where
killing of innocent people is involved,'' said Amarjit Bhinder, the pilot's
widow. ``So I appeal that the accused be expelled from the Sikh community.''