US charges Hindu man hired by Indian govt to assassinate Sikh leader

Biden admin demands New Delhi to hold to account those responsible

NEW YORK  -  The US says it foiled an alleged plot to as­sassinate an American citizen in New York who advocated for a Sikh separatist state, BBC re­ported. 

Nikhil Gupta, an In­dian national, was charged on Wednesday. He was directed by an Indian government em­ployee, according to the indictment. He has been charged with murder-for-hire over the plot, which prosecutors said was orchestrated from India. The alleged tar­get was not named in the court documents.

The Indian govern­ment earlier said it had started an investigation of security concerns aired by the US in rela­tion to the plot. After the indictment was unsealed, it reiterated its intention and said relevant depart­ments were already ex­amining the issue.

The White House said it had raised the alleged plot with the Indian government at the most senior levels. It added that Indian officials re­sponded with “surprise and concern”.

According to the in­dictment, Mr Gupta was involved in internation­al narcotics and weap­ons trafficking before he was allegedly recruited by an Indian government official in May to pursue the assassination of the tar­get. It alleges Mr Gupta was directed by the official to contact an associate in the US about potential assas­sination plans. Mr Gupta, it says, had intended to meet a hitman who could murder his target in New York City. Instead, court documents say, the source introduced him to an undercover law enforcement officer who said he would assassinate the target for $100,000 (£79,000). Mr Gupta paid $15,000 upfront via an as­sociate on 9 June, the in­dictment alleges. Authori­ties in the Czech Republic arrested Mr Gupta on 30 June shortly after US prose­cutors released an initial in­dictment against him. They are still detaining him at the US’s request, according to court documents. Although the target of the alleged as­sassination plot was not named in the documents, American authorities em­phasised that he was a US leader in a Sikh separatist group. Sikhs are religious minority that makes up about 2% of India’s popu­lation. Some groups have long called for a separate homeland for Sikhs. The In­dian government has often reacted sharply to demands by Sikh separatists in West­ern countries for Khalistan, or a separate homeland. According to a report pub­lished in The Washington Post, the court filing did not name the victim, but senior Biden administra­tion officials say the target was Gurpatwant Singh Pan­nun, general counsel for the New York-based Sikhs for Justice, a group that advo­cates the creation of an in­dependent Sikh state called Khalistan within India. An Indian government em­ployee who described him­self as a “senior field officer” responsible for intelligence ordered the assassination of a Sikh separatist in New York City in May, U.S. pros­ecutors alleged Wednesday. The court filing heightens scrutiny of India’s spy ser­vices following similar al­legations made by Canadi­an authorities last month. The alleged link between the Indian government and the assassination at­tempt on U.S. soil threatens to strain ties between the two countries and prompt­ed the Biden administra­tion to dispatch its top two intelligence officials to New Delhi to demand the Indi­an government investigate and hold to account those responsible, senior admin­istration officials said.

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