29 Nov 2023, 08:36 PM IST.
United States authorities have charged an Indian government hired official with murder-for-hire charges for attempt to kill Khalistani separatist and leader of banned Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) outfit Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil. The development comes just hours after India announced they have formed a high-level probe committee into security concerns shared by the US during the recently concluded bilateral meet.
US Attorney Damian Williams announced the charges against Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national who had lived in India, as an indictment was unsealed in Manhattan federal court.
“As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” he said in a release.
Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said in the release that the DEA stopped the plot when a foreign government employee recruited an international narcotics trafficker to commit murder in the US.
The allegations also come on the backdrop of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleging that Indian government and intelligentsia was involved in the killing of Canada-based Khalistani separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.
According to the release, Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta on June 30 in Czechoslovakia through a bilateral extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic. It was not immediately clear when he might be brought to the United States.
US officials became aware of the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who had been designated a terrorist under UAPA by Indian government.
According to the indictment, the plot was directed by an Indian government agency employee who has described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence” and also claims to have served in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and been trained in “battle craft” and “weapons.” The government employee was identified in the indictment only as “CC-1.” Pannun was only identified in court papers as the “Victim.”
The Indian government employee recruited Gupta last May to orchestrate the assassination, the indictment said.
It said Gupta contacted an individual he believed to be a criminal associate to help find a hitman to carry out the killing, but the individual actually was a confidential source working with the DEA. The confidential source then introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, but the individual was actually a DEA agent, the indictment said.
In September, Canadian PM Trudeau said there were credible allegations that the Indian government may have had links to the assassination in that country of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
India rejected the accusation as absurd, but Canada expelled a top Indian diplomat and India responded with the same measure.
Khalistani separatist Pannun has been a leading organizer of the so-called Khalistan referendum, inviting Sikhs worldwide to vote on whether India’s Punjab state should become an independent nation based on religion. Organizers of the nonbinding referendum hope to present the results to the UN General Assembly in about two years.