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30 Nov, 2023 11:04

India reacts to US charges over Sikh leader murder plot

New Delhi has expressed concern over Washington’s allegations suggesting an Indian intelligence official had ‘recruited’ a man to kill Khalistan activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun
India reacts to US charges over Sikh leader murder plot

India’s Foreign Ministry reacted on Thursday to accusations by US federal prosecutors that an Indian intelligence official had orchestrated a plot to assassinate US-based Khalistan movement leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York, saying that it was “contrary to Indian government’s policy” and a “matter of concern.” 

Addressing a press briefing on Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Washington shared “some inputs pertaining to nexus between organized criminals, gunrunners, terrorists and other extremists” during the course of discussions between the two governments related to bilateral security cooperation. 

We take such inputs very seriously and a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter,” the spokesperson noted. Bagchi said the necessary follow-up action will be taken based on the findings of the committee.

Commenting on the US federal prosecutors’ charges against an Indian national for his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil announced on Wednesday, Bagchi reiterated New Delhi’s commitment to investigate the matter.

 “This is a matter of concern. We have said that this is also contrary to government policy. The nexus between organized crime, trafficking, gunrunning and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for the law enforcement agencies and organizations to consider and it is for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will be guided by its results.

The US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that an Indian national, Nikhil “Nick” Gupta, 52, who was arrested earlier this year in the Czech Republic, has been charged with plotting to assassinate an American citizen in New York. Gupta was charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, each punishable with up to ten years in prison. 

The indictment did not mention the name of the Sikh leader Pannun, but noted that the intended victim “has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethno-religious minority group in India”. Pannun is a New York lawyer and leader of the Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) organization, formed in 2007, that calls for a separate homeland for Sikhs – to be called Khalistan – that would be carved out of India’s state of Punjab. He is designated as a “terrorist” in India for propagating a separatist “Sikh referendum” in several countries. Most recently, he issued a threat against Air India flights to and from Canada. 

The Department of Justice’s statement also didn’t name the Indian government official who allegedly worked with Gupta. The indictment said that “an Indian government employee” (“CC-1”) directed the assassination plot from India, working with Gupta and others. In his communication with the Indian government official, Gupta described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking, the statement noted. CC-1 allegedly offered the “hitman” $100,000 to kill Pannun, $15,000 of which was paid in advance in early June.

The indictment also mentioned the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia, Canada, on June 18 this year, which the Canadian government later linked to “Indian agents.” The US court maintained that Nijjar was an associate of Pannun, and, like him, was a Sikh separatist leader and “an outspoken critic of the Indian government.” 

New Delhi rejected Canada’s allegations and claimed that no evidence has been provided to support the accusations. On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry reiterated that Canada has “consistently given space to anti-India extremists and that is actually the heart of the issue.” 

Earlier, reacting to the US prosecutors’ revelations, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Canada once again urged India to cooperate in an investigation.  “The news coming out of the United States further underscores what we’ve been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously,” Reuters quoted Trudeau as saying in Ottawa. "The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we're getting to the bottom of this," he added.

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