NEW DELHI: A member of United Hindu Front organization holds a banner depicting Gurpatwant Singh Pannun during a rally on Sept 24, 2023. – AFP
NEW DELHI: A member of United Hindu Front organization holds a banner depicting Gurpatwant Singh Pannun during a rally on Sept 24, 2023. – AFP
Indian charged in plot to kill Sikh separatist in US

WASHINGTON: An Indian national has been charged with plotting to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader on US soil, the Justice Department said on Wednesday, alleging an Indian government official was also involved in the planning. The Justice Department unsealed murder-for-hire charges against Nikhil Gupta, 52, “in connection with his participation in a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen” of Indian origin in New York City, it said in a statement.

The man allegedly targeted in the killing “is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a US-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab”, a northern Indian state with a large population of Sikhs. An Indian government official, directing the plan from India, worked with Gupta and others based around the world, the US government said.

Gupta, who lives in India, was arrested by authorities in the Czech Republic under US extradition orders. The news comes after the White House said last week it was treating an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil with “utmost seriousness,” and had raised the issue with the Indian government. The Financial Times reported that same day that US authorities had thwarted a conspiracy to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US and Canadian citizen. After Wednesday’s news broke, Pannun said in a statement that “the attempt on my life on American soil is the blatant case of India’s transnational terrorism which has become a challenge to America’s sovereignty and threat to freedom of speech and democracy”. The Justice Department, which did not identify the target of the alleged assassination attempt on Wednesday, said that Gupta was recruited into the effort in May 2023.—AFP

‘Matter of concern’

Canada and India had a major diplomatic row after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in September linked New Delhi to the killing of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, also a Sikh separatist, in June. New Delhi called the Canadian allegations “absurd”. But Trudeau said Wednesday that “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”. “The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we’re getting to the bottom of this,” he said.

Pannun said that “first by assassinating Nijjar in Canada and then attempting to assassinate me on US soil, India under (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi has extended to the foreign soils its policy of violently crushing the Sikhs movement for right to self-determination”. The US Justice Department said that after Nijjar’s killing, Gupta told undercover US officials that there was “now no need to wait” on killing the New York City target.

Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi on Thursday told reporters the matter was being investigated. “As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a US court allegedly linking an Indian official, this is a matter of concern,” Bagchi said. “We have said — and let me reiterate — that this is also contrary to government policy.”

India had earlier said the United States has “shared some inputs pertaining to (a) nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others”. A “high-level” inquiry committee was established on Nov 18 “to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter,” the foreign ministry said. – AFP

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