The Air India Flight 182 took off from Canada's Toronto to India's Mumbai on June 23, 1985. It was a Boeing 747 plane named 'Emperor Kanishka' after the ancient Indian emperor of the Kushan dynasty.
The plane took off from Toronto, stopped at Montreal in Canada, and then proceeded to London from where it would have continued to Mumbai. But the plane never reached London. It exploded in the air off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 passengers and crew onboard.
It is the worst air disaster associated with Canada, according to The Canadian Encyclopaedia, which adds that it's also the worst act of terror in Canada.
Here we explain the bombing, the political and terrorist background to it, the Canadian laxity behind the terrorist attack, and the many controversies revolving around it.
How was 'Emperor Kanishka' bombed?
No warning or emergency calls were issued by the Air India Flight 182, according to The Britannica Encyclopaedia, as it exploded within 45 minutes of taking off from Canada's Montreal.
The Britannica adds that as the plane disappeared off the radar screens, London airport authorities dispatched rescue crews, but no survivors could be found. Only 131 bodies out of 329 people in the plane were recovered from the sea.
The bomb was located in a suitcase in the plane. A person named Manjit Singh got a suitcase transferred to Air India Flight 182, according to CBC News, which adds that Singh was not on the flight when it took off.
The bombers had planned to bomb another Air India plane that day, but that bombing failed because of human error.
The second bomb exploded in Japan's Tokyo airport, killing two baggage handlers. The original plan was to bomb the Air India Flight 301 to Bangkok in Thailand.
The Canadian Encyclopaedia noted, "Japanese baggage handlers Hideharu Koda and Hideo Asano were unloading suitcases from a CP flight at Tokyo’s Narita Airport on 23 June 1985. As they grabbed one of the bags from Vancouver that was tagged for an Air India flight, it exploded. They were killed instantly."
The Khalistani hand in the bombing
Sikh terrorists, commonly called Khalistanis as they demand a separate Khalistan country for Sikhs, have been said to be behind the attack.
Within hours of the explosion, newspaper offices in New York began to receive calls claiming responsibility for the attack.
"In New York, in the hours following the disaster, three separate groups called up newspaper offices to 'take credit' for the crash. The three were the so-called Dashmesh Regiment, the All-India Sikh Students Federation and the Kashmir Liberation Army," according to an India Today story from 1985.
In 1985, the Canadian authorities suspected Sikh terrorists of planting bombs in revenge for Operation Blue Star, the 1984 Indian offensive on Golden Temple in Amritsar —the holiest Sikh gurdwara— to flush out terrorists from the premises and neutralise Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, according to South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP).
The Canadian authorities further understood that the bombings were planned and organised in Canada.
The Government of India had appointed "Kirpal Commission" to investigate the bombing. It was headed by Justice BN Kirpal. Additionally, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) also carried out an investigation.
Kirpal Commission's mandate was to find whether it was a bombing or an explosion out of engine failure or some other measure. It found that it was indeed a bombing.
The CBI established that the bombing was the handiwork of Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), a terrorist outfit in Punjab and the mastermind was Talwinder Singh Parmar, a leader BKI leader, according to SATP.
Slow investigation in Canada, security lapses
The 'Emperor Kanishka' bombing is the worst act of terror in Canada and the worst air disaster. Yet only one man —Inderjit Singh Reyat— was convicted and that too decades after the bombing.
The mastermind Parmar was never convicted. He was killed in 1992 by Punjab Police when he returned to India.
In 2006, the then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a commission inquiry into the bombings. The report, published in 2010, found several security failures and blunders on part of Canadians that led to the bombing.
CBC News reported that the commission reported that the two Canadian security agencies —Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS)— had information that would designate Air India Flight 182 a high-risk target but the agencies never coordinated and therefore the risk was never realised.
"The RCMP and CSIS were in possession of significant pieces of information 'that, taken together, would have led a competent analyst to conclude that Flight 182 was at high risk of being bombed by known Sikh terrorists in June 1985'," reported CBC News, citing the commission report.
It further reported that there were signs of the bombing that were missed. Canadian authorities mistook a practice explosion by Sikh terrorists to be a gunshot.
CBC News reported, "When a CSIS surveillance team observed a test explosion conducted by Sikh extremists in the woods near Duncan, BC, in June 1985, the loud sound heard was misinterpreted as a gunshot."
The report indicted the RCMP and CSIS for their turf-wars which meant the two agencies were not sharing intelligence and were not coordinating.
Justice John Major, who prepared the report, also noted how Canada had delegated the biggest terrorist attack targeting their country to background.
He noted, "I stress this is a Canadian atrocity. For too long the greatest loss of Canadian lives at the hands of terrorists has somehow been relegated outside the Canadian consciousness."
Justice Major called the security lapses "inexcusable" and termed Canadian security arrangements at the time "wholly deficient".
Controversies over mastermind Parmar in Canada
There have been several instances in Canada of Parmar and Bhindranwale's posters at gurdwaras and events where the two are hailed as 'martyrs'.
Prominent Canadian leaders like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Jagmeet Singh have attended separatist rallies. Trudeau has attended events glorifying Bhindranwale.
For several years, Canadian leaders stopped short of condemning Parmar.
After attending events peddling Khalistani ideas for years, it was only in 2018 that Jagmeet acknowledged Parmar as being responsible for the Emperor Kanishka bombing.
At one point, Jagmeet, who is an influential leader and coalition partner of Trudeau, went on to say he had "no qualms" about attending rallies in future where those like Bhindranwale, who birthed the Khalistan movement, are honoured, reported Hindustan Times in 2018, citing CBC News.
The Hindustan Times also noted, "Facing sustained attack over his appearance at a rally featuring posters of Khalistani leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and attending an event organised by a separatist group, New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh has for the first 6time accepted that Babbar Khalsa International founder Talwinder Singh Parmar was the man behind the terrorist bombing of Air India flight 182 in 1985."
Justice Kirpal regretted Ripudaman Malik's acquittal
Ripudaman Malik, who was killed on Thursday, was one of the main accused in the Emperor Kanishka bombing, but he was acquitted in 2005 along with another main accused Ajaib Singh Bagri.
Justice BN Kirpal, who investigated the bombing under the Kirpal Commission, was disappointed with the Canadian verdict. He believed Canadian investigators could not do a good job to collect evidence to support their case.
Justice Kirpal told Rediff News that the Indian investigation in the case was "comprehensive".
He further said, "I do feel disappointed because our inquiries were comprehensive. I am not in a position to comment because I have not seen the judgment. But it seems that the judge has let off Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri because the prosecution was not able to prove their involvement [in the bombing] beyond reasonable doubt.
"If they [Malik and Bagri] did not do it, then someone else did it? Who did it? That is the question that needs to be answered. If someone else placed the bomb in the aircraft then the Canadian police have failed to track them down. It is a pity that nobody has been convicted in a case involving the loss so many lives."
By 2005 when Justice Kirpal was making these comments, no one had been convicted for the bombing. Reyat, mentioned above, was the only one convicted in 2010. He had pleaded guility for manslaughter.
Justice Kirpal further told Rediff News, "It [the acquittal] must concern them [Canadians]. They have failed to apprehend the culprits in such a heinous crime despite the fact that the conspiracy was hatched on Canadian soil."