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Air-India trial judge begins delivering verdict

Globe and Mail Update

Under heavy security precautions, Mr. Justice Ian Bruce Josephson of the B.C. Supreme Court began to deliver his verdict Wednesday on mass murder charges against two Canadians in the Air-India international terrorism case.

News reports said the judge could take anywhere from 90 minutes to four hours before he would deliver the verdict at the Vancouver courtroom.

Family members who have spent two decades waiting for a verdict in the bombing that killed 329 in June, 1985, gathered at the court. More than 100 people were lined up outside the courtroom in Vancouver Wednesday morning, CBC Newsworld reported.

The trial was under heavy security, with police and guards keeping close watch on the building and those who entered.

Vancouver businessman Ripudaman Singh Malik and Kamloops millworker Ajaib Singh Bagri were charged with murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of 329 people killed on June 23, 1985, in a mid-air explosion aboard an Air-India flight en route from Canada to England. They are also charged in the death of two baggage handlers killed 54 minutes earlier in a bomb blast at Tokyo's Narita airport.

About 70 family members of victims of the disaster have flown into Vancouver from around the world so they can be in the courtroom when the decision is delivered. They will join a circle of Vancouver families who were often in court during the trial, which started 23 months ago.

"I'm looking for justice, that is why I will be there," said Major Sidhu, whose sister, niece and nephew were on the ill-fated Air-India flight. "Somebody murdered 329 people and I want to know who they are."

The passage of time has not softened his sorrow, he added. "We have the same feelings now that we had on the day it happened. [The passage of time] makes no difference," he said.

Police say the two Canadians were seeking revenge against the Indian government for the death of thousands of Sikhs killed by government troops in June of 1984 during gunfights with insurgents at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion.

The spectacular twin explosions on opposite sides of the globe remain the deadliest terrorist attack in world aviation history, except for the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The investigation, involving hundreds of officers over three continents, was the biggest, most expensive effort ever undertaken by Canadian authorities. The trial and pretrial proceedings were regarded as one of the most complicated criminal cases ever heard in Canadian courts.

The government has refused to release estimates of the cost of the case. An unofficial estimate of the 20-year case by The Globe and Mail placed the costs at more than $130-million.

Security officers were tightlipped about measures that will be taken at the courthouse today. However, parking underground and on the streets around the courthouse has been restricted and access to the courthouse will be tightly controlled. Anyone going into the public gallery will pass through a security check that rivals, if not surpasses, the measures taken at Canadian airports.

The verdict hinges on whom the judge believes. Mr. Malik was accused of helping to plan the deadly scheme, of making reservations for the airline tickets that were used to put bags with bombs on airplanes and of paying for the airline tickets.

The case against him was based almost entirely on the testimony of a woman who said she loved Mr. Malik and that he loved her. As a result of their close relationship, he told her about his involvement in the Air-India disaster in 1997, she said. Mr. Malik's lawyers challenged her credibility and submitted evidence that suggested the confession never took place.

Mr. Bagri was accused of participating in the planning and with taking a bag with a bomb to the Vancouver airport. Evidence against Mr. Bagri came from a New York informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who said Mr. Bagri admitted his involvement in the conspiracy in conversations in the 1980s.

The court also heard testimony from a CSIS agent who said Mr. Bagri had asked a woman friend to borrow her car to take luggage to the airport. The agent, William Laurie, said the woman told him about her conversation with Mr. Bagri, but the woman told the court she did not remember the conversation.

With reports from Robert Matas in Vancouver

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