US link Indian official to murder plot of Sikh
India has complained about Sikh activists overseas, including in Canada and the US. Photo: TND
An Indian government official directed an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil, the US Justice Department says, in announcing charges against a man accused of orchestrating the attempted murder.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Nikhil Gupta, 52, worked with the Indian government employee, whose responsibilities included security and intelligence, on the plot to assassinate the New York City resident who advocated for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
Responding on Thursday, India expressed concern about one of its government officials being linked to the plot, from which it dissociated itself, as being against government policy.
Prosecutors did not name the Indian official or the target, although they did describe the latter as a US citizen of Indian origin.
US officials have named him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada.
Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition.
News of the incident comes two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb, a contention India has rejected.
On Wednesday, Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said: “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.”
The Indian official is described in the related indictment as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence” employed by the Indian government who “directed the plot from India”.
The charges come after a senior Biden administration official said last week that US authorities had thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States and warned India over concerns the government in New Delhi was involved.
President Joe Biden raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 summit, where he emphasised the seriousness of this issue and the potential repercussions to the countries’ relationship “were similar threats to persist”, a senior US official said.
It was a “matter of concern” that an Indian government official was linked to the plot, foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday, adding, “this is also contrary to government policy”.
On Wednesday, India had said it would formally investigate the concerns aired by the US, and take “necessary follow-up action” on the findings of a panel set up on November 18.
According to US prosecutors, the Indian official recruited Gupta in May 2023 to orchestrate the assassination.
Gupta had previously told the official he had been involved with trafficking drugs and weapons, prosecutors said.
Gupta then contacted someone he believed was a criminal associate for help hiring a hit man, but that associate was actually a Drug Enforcement Administration undercover agent.
Gupta faces two counts of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.
India has complained about the presence of Sikh separatist groups overseas, including Canada and the United States.
The movement is considered a security threat by India, although the cause now has hardly any support within the country, having been crushed in the 1990s.