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Who is Nikhil Gupta, arrested for planning to kill Khalistani leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in US?

Nikhil Gupta has emerged at the centre of an international assassination plot. The US sees the 52-year-old Indian man as crucial in a plan to kill a Sikh leader in the US. Arrested in the Czech Republic in June, Gupta is charged with planning to murder a US citizen from India. The “target” is a vocal critic of the Indian government and an advocate for separatist movements in Punjab.

“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,” Reuters quoted federal prosecutor Damian Williams as saying in a statement.

While prosecutors did not name the “target”, US officials have identified him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the leader of Sikhs for Justice, a pro-Khalistan group campaigning for an independent Sikh state.

The plot thickens with the involvement of an unnamed Indian government employee, described as a senior field officer in security and intelligence. This individual allegedly recruited Gupta for the assassination.

The unnamed Indian government employee, as per US authorities, “agreed in dealings brokered by Gupta” to pay the undercover agent $100,000 for the killing, according to AFP. Gupta believed he had found a hitman for the task. What he did not know was the ‘hitman’ was an undercover US agent.

These developments have not only raised eyebrows but also escalated diplomatic tensions. The case parallels an incident in Canada, where another Sikh separatist leader – Hardeep Singh Nijjar – was killed, leading to a diplomatic row between Ottawa and New Delhi. The US has expressed grave concern over these allegations, emphasising their seriousness in conversations with Indian authorities.

Gupta allegedly told undercover US agents after Nijjar’s killing that there was “no need to wait” to kill the US target. As per the US Justice Department, he said that Nijjar “was also the target” and that they were just two of “many targets”.

Earlier, Gupta advised the hitman to avoid carrying out the assassination during a period when high-level meetings between US and Indian government officials were expected, the US Justice Department alleges.

Charges against Nikhil Gupta

Gupta has apparently admitted to having a history of criminal activities. He talked to undercover agents about his past in drug and weapon trafficking, say prosecutors. He faces charges of two counts of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison.

(With agency inputs)

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Updated: 30 Nov 2023, 07:13 AM IST

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