On this day in 1985, Sikh extremists based in Canada perpetrated the single greatest terrorist act in history when they placed a bomb on Air India flight 182, killing 329.
When you work in counter terrorism the job is kinda what the title suggests it is. You are supposed to ‘counter’ terrorism, not let it happen. You are given the mandate to investigate your fellow citizens. You are on occasion are accorded extraordinary powers to legally intercept a private person’s communications.
When you stop an attack from succeeding you rarely get any ‘attaboy’ kudos. Sometimes there is a small story in the news which quickly fades from public memory. There is usually a long time lag before trials of accused terrorists begin and evidence of what was being planned ekes out. Sometimes there are those who dismiss the seriousness of the whole affair, accusing security services and law enforcement of ‘making shit up’. Or even, ridiculously, of ‘Islamophobia and racism in the case of Islamist terrorist plots.
But mess up once, just once, and everyone is down your throat. You are accused of incompetence, stupidity and, in Canada at least, there are calls for a ‘royal commission’ (a type of inquiry). That is exactly what happened as a result of today’s featured attack.
The single greatest terrorist act in history
On this day in 1985 Sikh terrorists based in British Columbia on Canada’s west coast, placed two bombs on two Air India flights originating in Vancouver. One was headed to Thailand via Tokyo and the second to Delhi via Montreal and London, UK. The latter exploded off the coast of Ireland, killing all 329 people on board.
The brand new CSIS – Canadian Security Intelligence Service, where I worked for 15 years, was aware of Sikh terrorists in Canada and was investigating them. It clearly did not do a good enough job as the downing of Flight 182 represented the single largest terrorist attack in history, a record it held until 9/11.
Canada is not normally associated with terrorism: on June 23, 1985 Canadian Sikh extremists perpetrated the largest attack in history prior to 9/11.
The only person ever convicted of this heinous act was Inderjit Singh Reyat, a Canadian national. He was a member of the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF), who pleaded guilty in 2003 to manslaughter. This terrorist act occurred a year after the Indian government raided the Golden Temple in Amritsar to rid it of Sikh extremists. This was likely retribution for the decision of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to raid the holy site.
The bottom line is that our security intelligence officials failed in their job. Their best efforts fell short. As a result people died.