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Air India Bombing Trial Opens Monday in Canada - 2003-04-27

The trial for two men accused of bombing the Air India Flight 182 begins in Vancouver on Monday, after more than 17 years of investigation. The long and complicated trial is expected to last for at least a year.

The two men from India's Sikh religious minority, millionaire Ripudaman Singh Malik and forestry worker Ajaib Singh Bagri are each charged with killing the 329 people aboard an Air India 747 that exploded near Ireland in June of 1985. Most of the victims were Canadian.

They are also charged with killing two baggage handlers at Narita Airport near Tokyo, Japan in a related bombing of another Air India flight, 54 minutes earlier. Officials said both bombs were put on departing planes here in Vancouver.

The two Indian-born Canadians, who were arrested in 2000, have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Mr. Bagri is also charged with the attempted murder of a local Sikh newspaper publisher in 1988. Critically wounded in that attack, the publisher (Tara Singh Hayer) was killed in another attack 10 years later. It is believed that the bombings were in retaliation for the Indian government's 1984 invasion of the Golden Temple in Amristar, the holiest shrine for the Sikh religion.

Still to this day, the bombing is the worst single incident of aviation terrorism in history. It also has the distinction of being the biggest and the most expensive police investigation in Canada so far.

After numerous delays, the complicated trial will begin under tight security in a specially modified courtroom. That courtroom alone cost $5 million to renovate and the criminal investigation in this case has already cost tens of millions of U.S. dollars.

During the trial, the 17 prosecutors are expected to link two men with militant political groups that were actively campaigning for a Sikh homeland in the Indian State of Punjab. There will be 15 defense lawyers to refute the evidence.

A third man, Inderjit Singh Reyat,who holds dual British and Canadian citizenship, plea-bargained to a lesser charge of manslaughter in February and received a five year sentence for the 329 deaths. As the bomb maker, he was previously found guilty of manslaughter for killing the two baggage handlers. Reyat might be called to testify for the prosecution.

The trial will also be a first for many Canadian journalists, as they will be allowed to record audio of the legal proceedings to authenticate quotes. Broadcasts of the recordings and picture taking inside the court room, however, remain illegal in Canada.