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Kanishka: Poor security system exposed

May 24, 2007 11:22 IST

There was severe laxity in the security arrangement at Toronto's Pearson airport when the ill-fated Air India flight had stopped there in 1985, a former aircraft cleaner has said.

Brian Simpson, a former aircraft cleaner, told a public inquiry on Wednesday that he managed to get aboard the ill-fated Air India jumbo jet in June 1985 without being challenged by any security personnel at the airport. He said he wasn't assigned to clean the cabin of that particular plane but boarded it on a whim just to look around and spent 10 minutes inside.

"In general, no one had any respect for the security. It was just an easy system to breach," he said.

Simpson, who works in film production, said he never saw any security guards or police officers posted at the door to the Air India plane or inside it.

But even if he had been spotted he wouldn't have worried about the consequences, he told the inquiry headed by former Supreme Court justice John Major.

"If I had bumped into anyone, I wouldn't have cared. There was no stigmatism to me going on there. There was no penalty, there was no sanction. I wouldn't have cared less."

Heavily censored Canadian spy agency documents show that the spy service also raised questions about the airport security screening and background checks for ground workers and cleaning staff in Vancouver and other airports.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service has suspected that a man who got employment as an airport janitor was a brother of Ajaib Singhy Bagri, a close associate of Talwinder Singh Parmar, head of the militant Babar Khalsa sect and suspected mastermind of the bombing of Air India flight in 1985.

Other Sikh militants were believed to have connections with a private cleaning company that worked on planes at the Vancouver airport.

Air India Flight 182 was supposed to be under heavy security the afternoon of June 22, 1985, because of fears that the airline might come under attack from extremists.

Documents tabled before the inquiry indicated that Burns Security, the private firm hired by Air India, did have personnel on board the plane when it was being cleaned by an Air Canada crew during its stop in Toronto.

Jacques Shore, a lawyer for the families of the bombing victims, called that an astounding oversight and said it bears out his worst fears.

"It was very clear there were gaps," Shore said outside the hearing room. "Let's get over the charade. The security was lousy."

Flight 182 was brought down off the coast of Ireland the morning of June 23, 1985, by a terrorist bomb that took 329 lives.

The bomb was hidden in a suitcase that originated in Vancouver and was sent via a connecting CP Air flight to Toronto, where it was loaded aboard Air India.

Nevertheless, the overall security arrangements for the flight have been a key issue at the inquiry. There is evidence, for example, that the CSIS was troubled to find security shortcomings not just at Pearson but also at Vancouver International Airport.

Only one man, Inderjit Singh Reyat, was convicted, on a reduced charge of manslaughter, for his role in the bombing.

Parmar was shot dead by police in India in 1992. Bagri and another person Ripudaman Singh Malik were acquitted of charges in 2005.

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