Indian govt again caught red-handed in murder plot

Modi regime uses hired assassins to silence voices in favour of Khalistan

ISLAMABAD  -  India once again caught red-handed in a failed plot to assassinate a US-based Sikh leader.

An Indian government official directed a plot to assassinate a prominent Sikh separatist leader living in New York City, United States, prosecutors said as they announced charges against a man they said was part of the thwarted conspiracy.

US officials became aware in the spring of the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who advocated for the creation of a sovereign Sikh state and is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

The US Drug Enforcement Administration interceded and set up a sting, with an undercover agent posing as a hitman, after the conspirators recruited an international narcotics trafficker in the plot to kill the activist for $100,000. The Indian government official was not charged nor identified by name in an indictment unsealed, but was described as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in security management and intelligence, said to have previously served in India’s Central Reserve Police Force.

The charges were aimed at a different person: Nikhil Gupta, 52, a citizen of India who was accused of murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire. The charges carry a potential penalty of up to 20 years in prison. The indictment said Gupta was recruited in May by the unidentified Indian government employee to orchestrate the assassination of Pannun, who was only identified in court papers as “Victim”.

Gupta contacted a criminal associate to help find a hitman to carry out the killing, but that person happened to be a confidential source working with the DEA. The confidential source then introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who was actually a DEA agent, the indictment said. In June, the Indian government employee gave Gupta the home address of Pannun, his phone numbers and details about his daily conduct, including surveillance photos, which Gupta passed along to the undercover DEA agent, the indictment said.

It said Gupta directed the undercover agent to carry out the killing as soon as possible, without conflicting with anticipated engagements between high-level US and Indian officials. “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 ethno-religious minority group in India,” US Attorney Damian Williams, the chief federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in a news release. “We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate US citizens on US soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad,” he added.

The charges were the second major recent accusation of complicity of Indian government officials in attempts to kill Sikh separatist figures living in North America. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said there were credible allegations that the Indian government 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. According to the indictment, Gupta told the undercover DEA agent the day after Nijjar’s killing in Canada that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets.”

Before the US indictment was unsealed Wednesday, India announced it had set up a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns about pre-existing knowledge of the plot to kill Pannun. When the US shared some information, India took it seriously, “since they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments were already examining the issue,” read a statement by External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

Gupta was arrested on June 30 in the Czech Republic through a bilateral extradition treaty between the US and the Czech Republic, prosecutors said. It was not immediately clear when he might be brought to the United States and whether he has secured legal representation there.

The case is particularly sensitive given the high priority that US President Joe Biden placed on improving ties with India and courting it to be a major partner in the push to counter China’s increasing assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.

Michael Kugelman, Director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute, said Washington’s bet on India as a strategic partner to counter China will likely prevent a bilateral crisis.

“In most cases, if Washington accuses a foreign government of staging an assassination on its soil, US relations with that government would plunge into crisis.

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