OTTAWA -- A witness at Canada's inquiry into a 1985 Air India plane bombing testified Monday that militants offered him a suitcase of cash to blow up an aircraft, but that he instead informed police about the plot months before the explosion.
The inquiry started in September to shed light on whether Canadian police and security officers did all they could to prevent the bombing of Air India Flight 182 from Toronto to London. The explosion killed 329 people.
Relatives of the victims demanded the inquiry, devastated when Canada's costliest investigation and a two-year trial ended in acquittals in March 2005. The dead included 280 Canadian citizens, most of them of Indian origin or descent.
The witness, who testified behind a screen, said that Sikh extremists offered him $200,000 in November 1984 to plant a bomb on an Air India plane in Montreal. No money ever changed hands and the plan was not carried out, he said.
Sikh extremists fighting for a homeland in northern India are believed to have been behind the June 23, 1985 bombing.
The witness said he only agreed to meet with the militants to gather information for law-enforcement authorities. He said he warned both the Vancouver police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police about the plot.
"When my wife told me there was a plane that had been blown up from Air India, I knew they (had) succeeded," the witness told the inquiry, headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major.
The man was not identified at the hearing Monday. In the past, a man identified as Gerry Boudreault has told a similar story.
Two Indian-born Sikhs, Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bagri, were acquitted when Supreme Court Justice Ian Josephson ruled there was not enough evidence against them.
A third man in the case, Inderjit Singh Reyat, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in jail in 2003 after a plea bargain in which he was supposed to testify against Malik and Bagri. Instead, he infuriated the court when he took the stand and claimed to know nothing.
Another witness, former Vancouver policeman Rick Crook, testified Monday that he spoke to an informer in October 1984 who proposed to blow the whistle on a plane bombing conspiracy in exchange for lenient treatment on unrelated criminal charges. Flight 182 originated in Vancouver.
The informant's story first became public in 1987. Authorities said they considered the information he offered about Air India to be unreliable and lacking in key details.
Crook said the informant appeared to be "less than truthful" about the criminal case that first brought him to police attention. But the story about the bomb plot deserved further investigation, Crook said.
Canadian authorities have maintained that, although there was general concern in the mid-1980s about the possibility of an attack on Air India by Sikh separatists based in Canada, there was never any specific intelligence indicating a particular date and flight.
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