US says Indian gov’t official directed plot to assassinate Sikh activist

New York: Authorities in the United States have said that an Indian government official directed a failed plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist on US soil, as they announced charges against a man who orchestrated the attempted murder.

According to Kashmir Media Service, 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 a Sikh activist in New York.

Prosecutors did not name the Indian official or the target, but described the target as a critic of the Indian government and an advocate for an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region, home to a large number of Sikhs and the site of a movement to create Khalistan – a Sikh homeland independent from India.

Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition.

“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.

Prosecutors said that Gupta planned to pay an assassin $100,000 to carry out the killing.

The charges have come a week after a senior member of the administration of President Joe Biden said that the US had thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh leader in the US, and two months after Canadian authorities said the Indian government was involved in the assassination of a Sikh activist in Canada.

That official said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who says he is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, was the target of the foiled plot.

New Delhi 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.

“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.

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 hit man, 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.

Gupta faces two counts of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years if convicted.

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