Indian gov't official directed plot to assassinate Sikh activist in New York, says US
US federal prosecutors said that Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian man, had worked with an Indian government intelligence and security worker in a clandestine effort to kill Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual citizen of the US and Canada
The United States has said that an Indian government official directed a failed plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist in New York as they announced charges against a man accused of orchestrating the attempted murder.
US federal prosecutors on Wednesday (29 November) said that Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian man, had worked with an Indian government intelligence and security worker in a clandestine effort to kill a Sikh activist in New York.
"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," said Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, reports Al Jazeera.
The official said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, was the target of the foiled plot.
Prosecutors said Pannun is a critic of the Indian government and an advocate for an independent Sikh state in India's Punjab region.
Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition. Prosecutors said that he allegedly planned to pay an assassin $100,000 to carry out the killing.
The charges have come a week after a senior member of the Biden administration said that the US had thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist in the US, and two months after Canadian authorities accused the Indian government of involvement in the assassination of a Sikh activist in Canada.
According to US prosecutors, the 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.
Gupta next reached out to someone he believed was a criminal associate for help hiring a hitman, but that associate was actually a US Drug Enforcement Administration undercover agent, prosecutors said.
The day after Nijjar was killed, Gupta wrote to the undercover DEA agent saying Nijjar "was also the target" and "we have so many targets," according to prosecutors.
India's embassy in Washington has not yet commented on the charges.
The country has rejected allegations that it was behind the June murder of Canadian Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, but Canadian authorities have stood firmly behind the claim and pulled dozens of diplomats from India in response.
India has described Sikh separatism as a national security threat and fought a brutal campaign against armed separatists seeking the establishment of a Sikh state in Punjab, commonly referred to as Khalistan, in the 1980s.
"The news coming out of the United States further underscores what we've been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday.
Nikhil Gupta faces two counts of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.