Ripudaman Singh Malik, who was acquitted in the 1985 Air India terrorist bombings, was killed on Thursday in what police described as a targeted shooting in Surrey, B.C.
He was a Vancouver businessman who owned companies that included Papillon Eastern Imports Ltd., a distributor of women’s apparel from Asia.
Mr. Malik was among three people charged with the Air India bombing of June 23, 1985, which killed 329 people, including 280 Canadian citizens and permanent residents, aboard an airliner that originated in Vancouver and exploded off the coast of Ireland. Two baggage handlers at the Tokyo airport were also killed in another explosion the same day.
The terrorist attack, Canada’s worst mass murder, exposed flaws in the country’s security systems and drew attention to Sikh extremism in this country. A public inquiry issued a report in 2010 that blamed a “cascading series of errors” by police, intelligence officers and air safety regulators and prompted then-prime minister Stephen Harper to apologize to the victims’ families.
RCMP said in a news release that Mr. Malik was shot just before 9:30 a.m. and died at the scene in Surrey. He was shot on the same block as a business he owned.
On Thursday afternoon, police remained on the scene photographing evidence and obtaining surveillance footage from neighbouring businesses. Yellow police tape cordoned off Mr. Malik’s business.
A burning vehicle was found less than two kilometres away, and police said it was likely used during the shooting. No arrests have been made.
Asaf Gill, president of the Carpet World steps away from the scene of the shooting, knew Mr. Malik for more than 25 years, working close by and installing carpets at two of Mr. Malik’s businesses. He said his brother phoned him from the shop on Thursday morning to tell him Mr. Malik had just been shot.
Mr. Gill arrived about half an hour after the shooting, and spoke with a worker from a nearby business who said he saw Mr. Malik shot in the neck as he sat in his Tesla. A worker from another business rushed to help Mr. Malik, whom they said was still conscious at the time.
Mr. Gill said Mr. Malik was humble and friendly, adding that he was saddened by the loss.
“Such a high-profile person should have security,” he said. “But he didn’t have any. He would always just walk around here.”
The family members of those killed on the Air India flight said they felt numb after hearing the news of Mr. Malik’s death.
Rob Alexander was 15 when his father, Anchanatt Mathew Alexander, was killed on the Air India flight. He was supposed to go on the trip as well to visit his ailing grandmother, but his father encouraged him to stay in Canada to attend basketball camp.
“It doesn’t bring back the people that were killed,” he said in an interview. “It was a totally preventable incident.”
Deepak Khandelwal lost his two older sisters in the attack. Still absorbing the news on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Khandelwal said there is no closure for him because of the Canadian government’s handling of the case.
“There’s still a lot of work the Canadian government and agencies need to do to prevent things like this from happening,” he said.
Mr. Khandelwal and the Air India 182 Victims’ Families Association are calling on government officials to learn from the tragedy.
Mr. Malik was acquitted in 2005 along with Kamloops sawmill worker Ajaib Singh Bagri. The sole person convicted in connection with the bombings was Inderjit Singh Reyat, first convicted of manslaughter for his role in making the bombs and later for perjury over his testimony at the trial of Mr. Malik and Mr. Bagri.
The alleged mastermind of the plot, Sikh fundamentalist leader Talwinder Singh Parmar, was arrested in 1985 but never charged. He later went into hiding and was killed in India.
Mr. Malik spent 4½ years in detention before his acquittal.
The Crown’s theory was that B.C.-based extremists planned the attack as revenge against the Indian government for ordering the army to raid Sikhism’s holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar in June, 1984.
Prosecutors said bomb-laden suitcases were loaded onto flights at Vancouver International Airport and one was transferred to an Air India plane in Toronto. The plane then headed to Montreal to pick up more passengers on its way to Delhi via London.
A public inquiry in 2010 led by former Supreme Court justice John Major said fundamental changes to intelligence handling and criminal prosecutions were needed. The federal government responded with legislation to bolster Canada’s anti-terrorism laws, but Mr. Major subsequently said the updated law missed the mark because it didn’t ensure that the RCMP and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service would better share information.
Mr. Malik’s son, Jaspreet Singh Malik, said in a social-media post that his father devoted his life to Sikh teachings of love, honesty and the betterment of humanity. He asked for privacy when contacted by The Globe and Mail.
The post lamented that his father would be seen by the media and police through the trial, in which the prosecution had portrayed him as a central figure in a terrorist plot
After his acquittal, Mr. Malik lost a long court battle with the B.C. government and had to repay millions of dollars in loans that went to cover his legal bills during the Air India trial.
With a report from Tu Thanh Ha
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