Already the Indian government has been under intensifying international scrutiny in the wake of the June murder of Canadian Sikh separatist and activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Canada accused Indian intelligence of being behind the plot, sending relations between the two countries to a historical low point, as each side has also removed diplomats.
Now a similar episode is playing out on United States soil. Federal prosecutors allege that an Indian government official was behind a failed assassination plot of a US citizen which was to take place in New York City.
A 52-year old Indian man identified as Nikhil Gupta was arrested and has now been charged in the murder-for-hire plot. The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said in a news release that Gupta was “recruited” by an Indian government employee to hire a hitman to kill a Sikh activist in New York City as part of a covert hit.
“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,” Manhattan federal prosecutor Damian Williams announced Wednesday.
US agents had apprehended Gupta—who was to receive $100,000 for arranging the hit—in the Czech Republic, but the Indian government official has not been directly named (an extradition is in process). The US federal press release has underscored the Indian official’s likely intelligence ties, describing [emphasis ZH]:
GUPTA is an Indian national who resides in India, is an associate of CC-1, and has described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others. CC-1 is an Indian government agency employee who has variously described himself as a “Senior Field Officer” with responsibilities in “Security Management” and “Intelligence,” and who also has referenced previously serving in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and receiving “officer training” in “battle craft” and “weapons.” CC-1 directed the assassination plot from India.
The US government has called this a “dangerous plot” to “assassinate a US citizen on US soil” which originated overseas. The statement further detailed that “When a foreign government employee allegedly committed the brazen act of recruiting an international narcotics trafficker to murder a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, DEA was there to stop the plot.”
There are some indicators this plot may have had the knowledge and backing of the highest levels of the Narendra Modi government:
“Gupta directed the [purported hit man] to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but Gupta also specifically instructed the [purported hit man] not to commit the murder around the time of anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level U.S. and Indian government officials,” the news release stated.
The Sikh activist and US citizen who was targeted is an associate of the slain Hardeep Singh Nijjaran, the Sikh leader gunned down in British Columbia last summer. Thus the two cases appear directly linked and may be part of a broader Indian intelligence plot to hunt down political dissidents abroad. It must be remembered that the US was directly involved in tipping off Canada concerning culprits behind the June assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar…
American spy agencies provided information to Ottawa after the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in the Vancouver area, but Canada developed the most definitive intelligence that led it to accuse India of orchestrating the plot, according to Western allied officials. —NY Times
Canadian PM Justin Trudeau , in no uncertain terms, demanded India’s full cooperation in the investigation into assassination of Shaheed Bhai Nijjar. He condemned India’s blatant disregard for international diplomatic norms. pic.twitter.com/9Go3GfU1uy
— Dal Khalsa UK 🇬🇧🏴 🦅 (@DalKhalsaUK) November 5, 2023
All of this is likely to bring US-India tensions much more out into the open, akin to spiraling Canada-India relations at the moment:
On June 18, Hardeep Singh Nijjaran, an associate of the victim, was killed by masked gunmen outside of a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada, prosecutors said. The following day, Gupta allegedly told the purported hit man that Nijjaran “was also the target” and said they had many other targets, according to prosecutors. Gupta told the purported hit man that because of Nijjaran’s murder, there was no need to wait to kill the victim, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors further described, “The Victim has publicly called for some or all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, and the Indian government has banned the Victim and his separatist organization from India.” He is an attorney and US citizen of Indian origin residing in New York City.
Gupta has meanwhile been charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire, but this may just be the tip of the iceberg in terms of a bigger plot involving other hired hitmen and additional targets, which likely has Indian intelligence officials behind it.
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