US thwarted plot to kill Sikh separatist on American soil, reports FT

Washington warned India over concerns of government involvement in assassination conspiracy, reports FT

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US President Joe Biden (left) talking to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi (right) at the G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia, on Nov. 15, 2022. On the left is India’s Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar Minister of External Affairs of India – Photo: G20 Indonesia Media Center/Prasetyo

By Asia Samachar | United States |

US authorities thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil and issued a warning to India’s government over concerns it was involved in the plot, according to multiple people familiar with the case, reports the Financial Times (FT).

The target of the plot was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen who is general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a US-based group that is part of a movement pushing for an independent Sikh state called “Khalistan”.

The people familiar with the case, who requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the intelligence that prompted the warning, did not say whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the FBI intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion, according to the London-based newspaper.

It said the US informed some allies about the plot following the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh separatist killed in Vancouver in June. In September, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were “credible allegations” linking New Delhi to Nijjar’s fatal shooting.

Trudeau said that “agents of the government of India” had carried out the assassination of a Sikh community leader in British Columbia in June, an explosive allegation that is likely to further sour relations between the two nations, reports the New York Times.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Trudeau said that he had raised India’s involvement in the shooting of Hardeep, directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Group of 20 summit meeting earlier in September 2023 “in no uncertain terms.” He said the allegation was based on intelligence gathered by the Canadian government.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau told lawmakers. He said Canada would pressure India to cooperate with the investigation into the killing of Mr. Nijjar, who advocated Sikh separatism.

In the latest incident in the US, FT reported that one person familiar with the situation said the US protest was issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a high-profile state visit to Washington in June.

Separate from the diplomatic warning, the US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot in a New York district court, according to people familiar with the case.

The US justice department is debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar’s murder. Further complicating the case, one person charged in the indictment is believed to have left the US, according to people familiar with the proceedings.

The US justice department and FBI declined to comment. The National Security Council said the US does “not comment on ongoing law enforcement matters or private diplomatic discussions with our partners” but added: “Upholding the safety and security of US citizens is paramount.”

Contacted by the Financial Times, Pannun declined to say whether US authorities had warned him about the plot, saying he would “let the US government respond to the issue of threats to my life on American soil from the Indian operatives”.

“The threat to an American citizen on American soil is a challenge to America’s sovereignty, and I trust that the Biden administration is more than capable to handle any such challenge,” Pannun told the FT.

RELATED STORY:

Justin Trudeau accuses India of a killing on Canadian soil (Asia Samachar, 19 Sept 2023)

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