Across Canada on Saturday, flags on government buildings will be flying at half-mast. It’s a good bet that most people won’t even know why, and if previous years’ commemorations are anything to go by, little public attention will be paid to the quiet and dignified memorials that are to take place, in their usual locations, in Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.
Just outside the Irish seaside village of Ahakista, on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in County Cork, there will be a particularly poignant commemoration, with prayers for the dead and a moment of silence that begins at exactly 8:12 in the morning, as it has every year since 1986. It was at that very moment, the year before, that Air India Flight 182 was blown out of the sky above Dunmanus Bay, killing all 329 passengers and crew. Only 131 bodies were recovered from the sea.
Until al-Qaida’s attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, the Air India bombing was the most savage act of terrorism in aviation history. It was far and away the worst terrorist atrocity in Canadian history. Flight 182 was blown up by Canadians. Of the 329 people murdered that day, 280 were Canadians.
The bomb was hidden in a suitcase that was checked in as luggage at Vancouver International Airport and sent on to Flight 182, bound for New Delhi from Toronto, via London. It was also in Vancouver that a second suitcase bomb, intended to detonate simultaneously, was placed on Air India Flight 301, bound for Bangkok via Narita, Japan. That bomb ended up detonating at Narita Airport, killing two baggage handlers.
The atrocity was conceived, planned and carried out by the terrorist organization Babbar Khalsa, specifically by its leader, Talwinder Singh Parmar, who ended up fleeing Canada and sneaking back into India, where he was killed by Indian police in 1992. In the years leading up to the Air India bombings, from the safety of his mansion in Burnaby, Parmar had been directing a campaign of assassinations in India’s Punjab state. Parmar was wanted in India on murder charges. Ottawa had declined to extradite him.
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