MONTREAL, Canada: Two Canadian Sikhs were sentenced Wednesday to life in prison for plotting to blow up an AirIndia passenger plane bound from New York to New Delhi. Quebec Superior Court Justice Claire BarretteJoncas said in a passing sentences that Santokh Singh Khela, 25, and Kashmir Singh Dhillon, 42, are examples to the world of how Canada treats “terrorists”. “The crime you were found guilty of is so mindboggling that the primary ends of these sentences must be deterrence, a firm notice to you and any would-be “terrorist” that such conduct is not to be considered lightly in Canada,” she said.
Police said the men conspired to hire an undercover FBI agent to blow up the AirIndia Boeing 747 after it took off from New York on May 30. The flight. Carrying an unidentified Indian Cabinet Minister, arrived: in New Delhi safely. “Jam well aware of your in no cent past.” BarretteJoncas said, “but the fact that you chose to conspire to kill hundreds of innocent people for “terrorist” purposes has brought you in the category of worst offenders”. The two men sat, handcuffed and expressionless, in a bulletproof enclosure as the judge read their sentence in the heavily guarded courtroom. Under her sentence the harshest provided by law they will be eligible to apply for parole in seven years and cannot own firearms for 30 years after their release from prison.
Defense lawyer Michael Code said that the two men were shocked by the severity of the sentences. which he called “wrong”.
“We’ll be appealing.” Code said. “Our feeling was that a sentence of eight to 15 years would
have been appropriate. These men have never been involved in crime before. and it is not the worst offense because it was not carried out,
Robert Beaudet, counsel for the defense, said the jury was biased against the two men and convicted them Dec. 23 in part because they wear turbans and beards.
Khela and Dhillon acknowledged at their three-week trial that they belonged to the fundamentalist group Babbar Khalsa, which seeks an independent homeland called Khalistan for Sikh in India.
Hundreds of people have been killed in India’s northern state of Punjab in separatist violence.
The star witness at the trial was Frank Miele, an undercover F.B.I. agent who testified that he met twice with the two men in a Montreal hotel room in May and that they tried to hire him to blow up an aircraft.
Khela and Dhillon admitted in testimony that they met with Miele, but only to try to buy a stolen car, and they said it was Miele who suggested the bomb plot. They said they pretended to go along with the plot because they were frightened of him.
Both men were born in the Punjab region of India but became Canadian citizens after moving to Canada. Khela, a baker and truck driver, is married and has three school age children.
Prosecutors said they are the first Canadians of the Sikh religion to be convicted of “terrorist” crimes.
No charges have ever been filed in the AirIndia crash of June 23, 1985, when a Boeing 747 plunged into the North Atlantic off Ireland while on a flight from Toronto to Bombay via London. All 329 people aboard were killed. An inquiry by the Indian government concluded that a bomb caused that crash.
Canadian authorities say they have some evidence in that crash but not enough to file charges.
Article extracted from this publication >> February 6, 1987