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23 Nov, 2023 01:01

US ‘warned’ India over alleged plot to kill Sikh separatist – media

The claim that an activist on American soil was targeted has come at a time when Washington is seeking closer ties with New Delhi
US ‘warned’ India over alleged plot to kill Sikh separatist – media

President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist on US soil, raising questions about India’s potential involvement in the case just weeks after a diplomatic row between Ottawa and New Delhi over the killing of an activist in Canada.

The latest case concerns Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual US-Canadian citizen whom India’s anti-terrorism agency has accused of making a threat against Air India flights.

US authorities foiled an effort to eliminate Pannun and the White House raised the issue with senior Indian government officials, several media outlets reported Wednesday. The White House then reportedly “warned” India’s government over the latter's possible involvement in the conspiracy.

Pannun is the general counsel for the US-based group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which was banned by New Delhi in 2019 for its alleged involvement in extremist activities. He has pushed for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland, called Khalistan, that would be carved out of the Indian state of Punjab. He claimed on Wednesday that the Indian government was trying to block a referendum on the creation of Khalistan.

“The foiled attempt on my life on American soil by the Indian agents is transnational terrorism, which is a threat to the US sovereignty, freedom of speech and democracy, so I will let the US government respond to this threat,” Pannun said.

US officials haven't gone so far as to accuse India of involvement in the alleged plot, however. White House spokeswoman Adrienne Watson told Reuters that the issue had been raised with New Delhi and that the Indian government was investigating the case.

“We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable,” said Watson, adding that Indian officials expressed surprise about the alleged conspiracy and stated that such activity “was not their policy.”

Indian Foreign Ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi has confirmed that the matter had been raised by Washington. The issue is related to the alleged “nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others,” he said. “India takes such inputs seriously, since it impinges on our own national security interests as well.”

The case comes at a sensitive time for US-India relations, as Washington is trying to build closer ties with New Delhi as a counter to China’s growing geopolitical influence. Biden’s administration also has tried to drive a wedge between India and Russia as it seeks to punish Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.

India halted visa services to Canadian nationals in September, after Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed to have “credible intelligence” linking Indian agents to the June murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.

New Delhi had designated the activist as a terrorist, but vehemently denied any involvement in his death. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, which has accused Ottawa of granting asylum to individuals who face terrorism charges in India, restored e-visa services for Canadians earlier this week.

India’s National Investigations Agency (NIA) registered a terrorism case against Pannun on Monday, saying he had made a video threat to passengers flying on Air India. Pannun warned Sikhs not to fly on the airline and threatened that Air India wouldn’t be allowed to operate anywhere in the world. Pannun told Reuters that his message was about boycotting the airline, not bombing it.

Pro-Khalistan separatists were blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India flight that originated in Canada, killing all 329 people on board. Pannun has previously threatened to disrupt Indian rail services and power plants.

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