US prosecutors claim that a series of planned killings in the aftermath of a Khalistan sikh activist’s killing was part of a coordinated effort.
According to an indictment unsealed by prosecutors, the intended victim in New York was a prominent Sikh separatist leader, and the plan aimed to precede additional politically motivated murders in the United States and Canada.
In electronic communications and video-recorded calls acquired by US enforcement, the organizers discussed plans to kill someone in California and at least three others in Canada, in addition to the New York victim.
Prosecutors assert that the goal was to carry out at least four murders in the two countries by June 29th, with plans for more afterward.
Following the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18th, one of the individuals involved in the planned assassinations instructed a hired hitman to urgently target another activist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
The hitman, apparently a US citizen living in New York, was told to act swiftly, as Pannun would likely be more cautious after Nijjar’s death.
- “We have so many targets,” Nikhil Gupta said in a recorded audio call, according to the indictment.
- “We have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: Now no need to wait.”
- “We got the go-ahead to go anytime, even today, tomorrow – as early as possible,” he told a go-between as he instructed the hitman to kill Pannun even if there were other people with him. “Put everyone down,” he said, according to the indictment.
The foiled attack plans revealed that the hitman was, in fact, an undercover US agent. Charges were announced against one of the orchestrators, Nikhil Gupta, by the US attorney in Manhattan.
Court papers implicated an official in the Indian government in directing the plot to kill Pannun, described as a “senior field officer” in security and intelligence, although not named or charged in the indictment.
Indian officials have continually denied involvement in Nijjar’s killing and initiated a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns about the plot against Pannun.
US law enforcement had become aware of the plot even before Nijjar’s death, as Gupta, seeking a hitman, contacted a narcotics trafficker who turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Administration informant.
The Alleged Plot
Over the ensuing weeks, the pair communicated by phone, video and text messages, eventually looping in their hired assassin – the undercover agent.
The Indian government official allegedly told Gupta that he had a target in New York and a target in California, the indictment said. They ultimately settled on a $100,000 price and by June 3rd, Gupta was urging his criminal contact in America to “finish him brother, finish him, don’t take too much time …. push these guys, push these guys … finish the job.”
During a June 9th call, Gupta told the narcotics trafficker that the murder of Pannun would change the hitman’s life because “we will give more bigger job more, more job every month, every month 2-3 job,” according to the indictment.
However, It was unclear from the indictment whether US authorities had learned anything about the specific plan to kill Nijjar before his ambush on June 18th
Gupta, boasting of his involvement, allegedly indicated that his associates in India were behind both the Canadian and New York assassination plots.
He allegedly told the Drug Enforcement Administration informant on June 12th that there was a “big target” in Canada and on June 16th told him: “We are doing their job, brother. We are doing their New York (and) Canada (job),” referring to individuals directing the plots from India.
After Nijjar was killed, Gupta told the informant that Nijjar was the target he had mentioned as the potential Canadian “job” and added: “We didn’t give to (the undercover agent) this job, so some other guy did this job … in Canada.”
Gupta was arrested on June 30th, arriving after a trip from India to the Czech Republic, and awaits potential extradition to the United States to face charges.
Federal authorities have not said when he might be brought to the United States to face murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges. It remains unclear who would provide legal representation if he arrived in the US.
Meanwhile, Pannun, the targeted activist, remains undeterred, vowing to continue his work despite the threats. He criticized India’s investigation into the plots and rejected the label of being a terrorist, emphasizing their non-violent resistance against India’s actions.
Blinken Applauds Indian Investigation
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended India’s decision to launch an investigation into the allegations made by the United States regarding the involvement of an Indian official in a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader.
Speaking to reporters during his visit to Tel Aviv, Israel, Blinken emphasized that the government’s announcement of the investigation is deemed both good and appropriate, expressing anticipation for the results.
The remarks from Blinken came in response to questions concerning an unnamed Indian official mentioned in an indictment filed by federal US prosecutors in a Manhattan court on Wednesday.
The indictment, involving an Indian national (as mentioned above) allegedly hiring someone in the US to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a vocal critic of India advocating for the cause of a separate Khalistan, has raised significant concerns.
Acknowledging the sensitivity of the ongoing legal matter, Blinken refrained from providing detailed comments.
However, he stressed the seriousness with which the US views the issue, revealing that discussions with the Indian government had taken place over the past weeks among concerned parties.
The unfolding scenario prompts reflection on the complexities surrounding the allegations and the diplomatic repercussions they may entail.
A call for vocal acknowledgement needs to be made, as is the need for a balanced perspective.
The focus is on questioning who is on the right side, contemplating the stance of Khalistani terrorists, separatists, and instigators operating from foreign soils.
While ‘the plot’ narrative unfolds against the backdrop of India’s cooperation, it raises the question of reciprocity for the sake of justice.
It aptly brings attention to the “investigation” of separatists on neighbouring country land and raises scepticism about whether similar actions would be reciprocated.
The reference to open threats issued to government diplomats and Indian citizens by these separatist elements also has much significance, adding another side to the situation.
Also, one needs to question the applicability and draw a parallel with past instances, such as the targeted elimination of Osama Bin Laden, prompting reflection on the US approach to such matters and the potential nuances involved.
In analyzing the potential impact on U.S.-India relations, international affairs experts suggest that the incidents are unlikely to damage the relationship seriously.
The deepening strategic partnership, especially in countering Chinese power, is considered a stabilizing factor. The Biden
administration’s prioritization of leveraging India in its strategy is seen as crucial in maintaining this goodwill despite the details of the thwarted plot being made public.