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Air-India witness gives damning testimony

Ideal Singh

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Air-India witness gives damning testimony


Globe and Mail Update

A crucial witness in the Air-India trial testified Monday that, as a

youngster in India, he killed his older brother in 1965 with a ceremonial

Sikh sword he wore for religious reasons.

Recounting his life-story before testifying against defendant Ajaib Singh

Bagri, the turbaned Sikh man told the court that he entered the United

States illegally in 1983. After being refused political asylum, he tried

unsuccessfully to use fraudulent papers to obtain residency papers, he said.

He told the court that in the mid-1980s he was an executive of a Sikh group

in New York — the Deshmesh Regiment and Sikh Student Federation — that was

accused of terrorism after other executive members were arrested for trying

to kill a former Indian government state official in New Orleans.

He said he raised money to help two members escape after police stopped the

attempted murder and arrested four others.

Funds from the Deshmesh Regiment had been used to provide military training

for six of the group's members, he testified. The witness also said he went

to a shooting gallery in New York to learn how to fire rifles and hand guns

in case he was sent back to India.

Please see our

Air-India Backgrounder

The witness is one of two key witnesses to testify against Mr. Bagri in the

international terrorism case. In response to questioning by prosecutor

Richard Cairns, he recounted incidents in his life without equivocation,

excuses or emotions.

His past history is considered relevant in court as a factor to be

considered when the judge assesses his credibility as a witness against Mr.

Bagri. A court order prohibits the media from identifying him.

An agent from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, accompanied by an

FBI lawyer and a Canadian Department of Justice lawyer, listened intently

to the testimony. Mr. Cairns told the court that they would ask to

intervene if issues of national security arose.

The witness told the court that he had had a contract with the FBI to

provide them with information. When he ran into difficulties with the

immigration department in the 1980s, his FBI handler told him that the

federal agency would take care of his problems.

In 1987, he left the U.S. to attend a family funeral. The FBI arranged for

him to receive documents that allowed him to return to the U.S., he said.

He was granted political asylum after filing a second application in 1996

and now has permanent residence papers, he said.

The witness left India in 1973 and came to the United States 10 years

later. He told the court that he had killed his brother in 1965 in

self-defence, after intervening in a family fight. He was convicted and

sentenced to seven years, but a higher court overturned the conviction two

years later.

The witness's testimony against Mr. Bagri begins in 1984, when he spoke to

Mr. Bagri after a rally at Madison Square Gardens in support of

establishing a separate Sikh state.

The witness said he had a private conversation with Mr. Bagri after the

rally. Mr. Bagri urged him to tell his friends: “Don't go to jail for small

things. We have stuff that can blow [up] a block,†the witness recalled.

In statements to police before the trial, the witness recalled a

conversation with Mr. Bagri a few weeks after the Air-India disaster in

1985. He told Mr. Bagri that some people were blaming the group that he was

involved with for the Air-India disaster. Mr. Bagri told him, “why are they

bothering you. We did this,†he told the police.

Three years later, he told police that in September, 1987 Mr. Bagri said

one of the two explosions was expected an hour earlier.

Mr. Bagri and Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik are charged with

murder for the death of 331 people in two explosions on June 23, 195 on

opposite sides of the world.

The trial continues...


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