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7 Dec, 2023 11:12

FBI chief to visit India amid murder plot probe – envoy

New Delhi is investigating the alleged involvement of an Indian official in an assassination attempt on a Sikh activist in the US
FBI chief to visit India amid murder plot probe – envoy

FBI Director Christopher Wray will visit India next week, amid an ongoing probe into an alleged Indian hand in the June assassination attempt on a Sikh activist who is a US citizen, Washington's ambassador to India, Eric Garcetti, said on Wednesday.

Speaking at a panel discussion on US-India relations at the Global Technology Summit held in New Delhi, Garcetti said: “The Secretary of State [Antony Blinken] just came here for the third time. Secretary of Defense [Lloyd Austin] for the second time. The FBI director is here next week.” Blinken and Austin were in New Delhi on November 10 for the fifth India-US 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue.

The FBI director’s visit would come days after US Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Jonathan Finer was in Delhi to meet with Indian Deputy National Security Adviser Vikram Misri. It was the first high-level meeting since a US indictment linked an Indian government official to an alleged assassination plot against Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun that was supposedly orchestrated from New Delhi.

According to a report in the Washington Post, CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines were sent to India in August and October, respectively, to demand an investigation into the allegations.

American prosecutors alleged that an Indian intelligence officer worked with an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, to try to arrange a murder for hire on Pannun in New York in June. However, the alleged plot was foiled as the 'hitman' that Gupta agreed to pay $100,000 to carry out the assassination was an undercover informant for US enforcement agencies. Gupta was apprehended by the authorities in the Czech Republic and is awaiting trial.

Meanwhile, India’s Foreign Ministry has described the case as a “matter of concern” and said the accusations were “contrary to government policy.” A high-level inquiry committee has been constituted to look into “all the relevant aspects of the matter”, a ministry spokesperson confirmed last week.

On Tuesday, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller welcomed the move and said the White House would look forward “to seeing the results of that investigation.” 

Pannun, the target of the alleged assassination, is the leader of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), the largest advocacy group for a separate Sikh homeland to be carved out of northwestern India’s Punjab state. Last month, he faced charges of terrorism and conspiracy for posting a video on social media in which he appeared to threaten passengers flying with India’s national carrier, Air India, to and from Canada.

On Wednesday, several Indian media outlets reported that Pannun had issued new threats against India. In a video, the authenticity of which cannot be independently confirmed by RT, Pannun allegedly said that the Indian government had tried to “kill” him and added that the response on December 13 would shake “the very foundation” of the parliament. Notably, December 13 marks the anniversary of a 2021 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament building that killed nine people.

Although the veracity of the video could not be independently verified, several media outlets reported that Delhi police had stepped up surveillance to foil potential attacks. “We are taking all precautionary measures to prevent any untoward incident” an unnamed official was quoted as saying by India Today on Thursday. The winter session of the Indian Parliament is currently underway.

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