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Crown summing up in Air-India case

VANCOUVER

prosecution began to sketch out the finishing touches on its submissions at the Air-India international terrorism case yesterday with an emotional question that cut right to the heart of the unparalleled trial.

No one has disputed that Canada became the victim of an act of international terrorism on June 23, 1985, that killed 331 people, senior Crown prosecutor Robert Wright said in B.C. Supreme Court.

"It is, I suggest, difficult to comprehend why this happened," he said, after submitting a list of the victims' names to Mr. Justice Ian Bruce Josephson.

"Who would do something so terrible? Kill so many innocent people? Children murdered; women murdered; parents and grandparents murdered."

The deaths only become understandable when you look at the motives, Mr. Wright said:

"Engaging in this kind of extreme conduct is consistent only with political and religious zealotry."

A detailed review of the evidence over the next three weeks will show beyond a reasonable doubt that Vancouver millionaire businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops mill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri were guilty of the Air-India killings, he said.

Evidence also backs charges of conspiracy to commit murder and jeopardize the safety of an aircraft in flight.

As Mr. Wright outlined the evidence, the two accused, dressed in traditional Sikh garb, listened intently with no obvious signs of anxiety.

Unlike the beginning of the trial on April 28, 2003, the public gallery was mostly empty.

Mr. Wright reminded the court that the defence teams have not challenged that the explosions were part of one plan by a group of terrorists. "The issue fundamentally comes down to who has committed the murders?" he said.

Although the case is unique and on a scale unknown in Canadian legal history, the burden of proof remains the same, he said.

Statements implicating the two men, if accepted, are proof of murder and the Crown will prove each essential element beyond a reasonable doubt, he said.

However, Mr. Wright also emphasized the prosecution's case was based entirely on circumstantial evidence.

The strength of the prosecution's case is not determined simply by looking at the strength of each piece of evidence, he said. Rather, the judge must examine each piece of circumstantial evidence in relation to total evidence.

He accused the defence teams of being "overly compartmentalized" by concentrating on single pieces of evidence in an attempt to undermine the prosecution's case.

However the circumstantial evidence would not be compatible with any other hypothesis other than their guilt, he said.

Mr. Wright also responded to criticism of the prosecution for relying on only a few witnesses.

"Whether there is one witness or 100 does not matter," he said. "The legal analysis is simply whether [the judge] is satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt at the end of the day that the accused is guilty."

Evidence showed that Mr. Malik booked the tickets used to put the bombs on the airplanes, and arranged to have the tickets picked up and paid for, he said. Mr. Malik also had the tickets turned over to others for use in the deadly conspiracy, he said.

Evidence is based on Mr. Malik's attempts to recruit people to carry a bomb on a plane, on his attempts after the bombing to obstruct the Air-India investigation and his detailed confession to a woman who claimed to be in love with him, Mr. Wright said.

Mr. Bagri arranged to have luggage with bombs taken to the airport, the prosecutor said, adding Mr. Bagri admitted his involvement to two people.

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