• Friday, March 01, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Indian national charged with plotting to assassinate Sikh separatist in US

Nikhil Gupta, 52, who lives in India, was arrested by authorities in the Czech Republic under US extradition orders

Flags promoting the movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs by establishing a sovereign state called Khalistan, flap in the air outside Guru Nanak Gurdwara, in Smethwick, near Birmingham, central England, on October 18, 2023 (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Kimberly Rodrigues

An Indian national has been charged with conspiring to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader on US territory, the Justice Department said on Wednesday (29). The allegations suggest the involvement of an Indian government official in the planning process.

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 organisation 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.

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.

An Indian government spokesman on Wednesday said that the United States has “shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others.”

“We had also indicated that India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on our national security interests,” the statement said, adding that a “high-level Enquiry Committee” was established on November 18 “to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter.”

(AFP)

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