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29 Nov, 2023 20:17

US reveals charges in Indian assassination plot

A New Delhi official paid for the killing of a Sikh separatist in New York, prosecutors claim
US reveals charges in Indian assassination plot

The US Department of Justice announced on Wednesday that an Indian national, arrested earlier this year in the Czech Republic, has been charged with plotting to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh activist whom India has designated a terrorist.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York unsealed the indictment against Nikhil “Nick” Gupta, 52, charging him with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, each punishable with up to ten years in prison.

“Murder for hire is a crime out of a movie, but the plot in this case was all too real,” FBI Assistant Director James Smith said in a statement, complimenting US law enforcement for exposing what he called a “brazen conspiracy” to assassinate an American citizen.

“We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on US soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad,” said US Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

The DOJ described Singh as “a vocal critic of the Indian government” who “leads a US-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India that is home to a large population of Sikhs.” 

The organization, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), seeks to establish an independent state called Khalistan, and has been designated a terrorist group by the Indian government.

American prosecutors described Gupta as involved in “international narcotics and weapons trafficking” and an “associate” of the person who allegedly commissioned the hit. The unnamed individual was identified only as CC-1, an “Indian government agency employee” who had previously served in the country’s Central Reserve Police Force (CPRF) and “directed the assassination plot from India.”

The indictment claims that Gupta was recruited in May and contacted a man he believed to be a criminal but was in fact an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The informant introduced him to a “hitman” who turned out to be an undercover DEA agent. CC-1 allegedly offered the “hitman” $100,000 to kill Singh, $15,000 of which was paid in advance in early June.

On June 20, two days after masked assassins killed Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a temple in Canada, CC-1 allegedly messaged Gupta that his hit was a “priority now.” Ten days later, however, Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic.

Several US media outlets revealed the alleged plot against Singh last week, saying that Washington had “warned” New Delhi of the government’s involvement. On Wednesday, the Indian Foreign Ministry confirmed that the US had “shared some inputs pertaining to a nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists, and others,” and said that a high-level committee was looking into the matter.