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Targeted killings run against government policy: India

New Delhi: Allegations that two Indian nationals, including an unnamed government official, were involved in a plot to assassinate US-based pro-Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun are a “matter of concern”, an official spokesperson said on Thursday.

“We have said, and let me reiterate, that this is also contrary to government policy,” Arindam Bagchi of the external affairs ministry said.

Bagchi’s response came after the US Department of Justice unsealed an indictment against Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year old Indian national, who is accused of participating in a plot to kill Pannun, who is a US citizen.

Pannun, the face of Sikhs For Justice, a group that advocates for the cause of Khalistan, has been designated a terrorist in India under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

According to the indictment, Gupta was recruited by an Indian government official, based in New Delhi, in May 2023 to coordinate the plan to assassinate. The indictment refers to the official as “CC-1″.

Gupta made contact with an individual whom he believed to be a criminal associate to hire a hitman for the planned operation. However, the indictment says, the individual was actually a confidential source working with US law enforcement agencies. This source introduced Gupta to a purported hitman, who too was, in fact, an undercover government official.

“CC-1 subsequently agreed, in dealings brokered by Gupta, to pay the UC $100,000 to murder the victim. On or about June 9, 2023, CC-1 and Gupta arranged for an associate to deliver $15,000 in cash to the UC in Manhattan, New York, as an advance payment for the murder,” the indictment reads.

The intelligence official also provided Gupta with private residence information and surveillance photographs related to Pannun.

In June 2023, Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited to the US.

“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,” said Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Officials from America’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were also involved in investigating Gupta.

The indictment, which lists details of private conversations between Gupta and the government official, shows that the two individuals discussed the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, another pro-Khalistan figure, in June.

The indictment and the case more broadly has been taken up at the “senior-most levels” by the two sides, according to US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. International media reports state that National Security Adviser Jake Sulivan, CIA Director Wiliam Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines took up the matter with Indian officials.

After news of the indictment broke, India’s ministry of external affairs announced that a high level committee had been set up to look into the inputs shared by the US on 18 November.

“The nexus between organized crime, trafficking, gun running and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for law enforcement agencies to consider. It is precisely for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will obviously be guided by its results,” Bagchi said on Thursday.

The matter has attracted the attention of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who alleged in September that Indian government officials may have had a role in the killing of Hardeep Singh Nijrar in Canada in June this year.

“The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we’re getting to the bottom of this. This is not something that anyone can take lightly,” Trudeau said.

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Updated: 30 Nov 2023, 09:54 PM IST

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