Man acquitted in Air India bombing, Canada’s worst mass murder, shot dead

SURREY, BC—Nearly 40 years after the 1985 Air India bombing, another chapter in the saga of a terrorist attack that killed 329 people was written Thursday morning, when one of those acquitted of charges in the case was gunned down in a Vancouver suburb.

Businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik was shot dead while sitting in his car in the parking lot of a business complex in Surrey, witnesses said.

For those close to Malik, it is a devastating tragedy; for others, the killing marks another grisly turn of events in a case that has haunted Canada for decades.

In 2005, Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri were acquitted of mass murder and conspiracy charges in the pair of bombings that saw an Air India passenger plane explode off the coast of Ireland in 1985, killing 329 people, including 280 Canadians. Another bomb exploded at a Tokyo airport, killing two baggage handlers.

Whether Thursday’s shooting is related to the bombing was not known. Malik had recently been back in the public spotlight after writing a letter in January to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing Malik’s “deep heartfelt gratitude” for helping Sikhs. The letter was published by the Hindustan Times.

In it, Malik thanked Modi for the “unprecedented positive steps” he has taken to help Sikhs, including “elimination of blacklists that restricted visit to India of thousands of Sikhs living abroad.”

RCMP told the Star it received reports of shots fired on 128 Street around 9:30 am The injured man died at the scene. A suspect vehicle was located nearby in flames, police said.

“The investigation is in the early stages and police are still looking for the suspect and a second vehicle that may have been used as a getaway vehicle,” RCMP said.

Police did not confirm the victim, only saying the shooting appeared targeted.

On Thursday afternoon, a truck with forensics markings on its side was near the center of the area tapped off by police as media and others milled around awaiting more details on the morning’s events.

Merchants in the business park stood by as police did their work. They confirmed the man shot dead was Malik, as did his son in a Facebook post late Thursday.

An employee who works at a nearby car wash said he heard shots and ran outside to find Malik unconscious in his car.

“There were three gunshots. One hit on the neck, that’s it. And I just took him out. He was alive,” the man, who didn’t want to be named because of safety concerns, told The Canadian Press.

Police arrived in about 10 to 15 minutes, he said, and an ambulance took longer.

The man said he knew Malik as a customer at the car wash and because he had a business nearby.

Standing in front of forklifts in his carpet business warehouse, staring across the parking lot to where authorities are investigating the shooting, was Asaf Gill, another merchant in the complex.

Gill said he’d known Malik for about 25 years; Malik was president of this business park’s strata (a communal property arrangement), he said, and had last spoken to him a day earlier. Gill arrived at work Thursday shortly after the shooting.

“It’s shocking,” he said. “He was acquitted for some reasons. Who is somebody else to take the law into their hands?”

During Malik’s trial, the Crown argued the Air India bombing — the worst mass murder in Canada’s history — was a terrorist attack by Sikh extremists against the Indian government, which, the year before, had ordered the army to invade the Golden Temple, a sacred spot for Sikhs.

But Justice Ian Josephson found the Crown’s main witnesses unreliable, and both Malik and Bagri were acquitted.

Another man, Inderjit Singh Reyat, was convicted on various charges and spent 30 years in prison for helping to make the bombs, and for lying during trials, including Malik’s. He was released in 2016 after serving two-thirds of his perjury sentence. The parole board said in its decision, “As a result of your committing perjury, the co-accused were not convicted.”

The Air India inquiry ultimately identified a fourth man, Talwinder Singh Parmar, as the ringleader behind the attacks. Parmar was killed by Indian police in 1992.

Rob Alexander, who lost his father, Dr. Anchanatt Mathew Alexander, in the attacks, said even after 37 years — the anniversary of the bombing was on June 23 — it hasn’t gotten any easier.

“More than a lifetime has gone by, and there’s really not any resolution to it.”

Alexander said there’s been a lack of justice in this case “from day one.”

“People think that just because (Malik) wasn’t charged, he was found innocent,” Alexander said. “But he was acquitted of charges because of a lack of a burden of proof, which is quite different from being found innocent.”

Malik, who spent four years behind bars before he was acquitted, sued to get back more than $9 million in legal fees, but a BC Supreme Court judge rejected his claim in 2012.

Malik’s son, Jaspreet Singh Malik, posted a tribute to him on Facebook where he said his father came to Canada in 1972, founded the Khalsa Credit Union and Khalsa School in 1986 and dedicated his life to promoting the teachings of his faith, such as love and honesty.

But he said the legal saga he faced forever tarnished his legacy.

“The media will always refer to him as someone charged with the Air India bombing. He was wrongly charged … The media and RCMP never seemed to accept the Court’s decision and I pray today’s tragedy is not related.”

He added his father was deeply committed to his community and family. In an email to the Star he said the family needed “privacy and time.”

Ujjal Dosanjh, former federal health minister and BC premier, said he first met Malik in the 1970s, though he had not spoken to him in many years.

Dosanjh said it’s hard to know what happened. He pointed to Malik’s letter of praise for Modi and meetings he reportedly had with the Indian intelligence community, which could have angered extremists opposed to Modi.

“There could be any number of reasons for why it happened. It’s sad,” Dosanjh said. “There’s enough violence in society without this happening.”

He said he hopes the killing does not spark any violent repercussions in the community.

“This is not the kind of justice the Air India families would have looked for.”

With files from Omar Mosleh, Edmonton Bureau, and The Canadian Press

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