India Alleged to Have Plotted Assassination on US Soil
Case has similarities to a killing in June of a Sikh separatist in Canada
WASHINGTON — An alleged plot by Indian government agents to assassinate a Sikh separatist on American soil is a serious issue that Washington has raised with New Delhi, U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday.
“We are treating this issue with utmost seriousness, and the U.S. government has raised it with the Indian government, including at the senior-most levels. Indian counterparts expressed surprise and concern. They stated that activity of this nature was not their policy,” says White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson.
“Based on discussion with senior U.S. government officials, we understand the Indian government is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days. We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable,” Watson adds.
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The general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is a citizen of the United States and Canada, was the target, according to the newspaper.
Sikh separatist movement
Pannun’s group is part of a movement that, for decades, has been advocating an independent Sikh state in India to be called Khalistan. India’s government frequently has accused such separatists of being terrorists.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has yet to comment publicly about the alleged plot to kill Pannun. It has previously denied any government involvement in the killing this past June of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar near the western Canadian city of Vancouver.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, three months after the fatal shooting, said there were “credible allegations” linking the Indian government to Nijjar’s death. India’s government called that “absurd.”
U.S. federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment in a New York district court against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot against Pannun, according to the Financial Times.
Pannun, earlier this month, issued a video warning to Sikhs, a religious minority in India, not to fly on Air India because that would be “life-threatening.” He has denied it was a violent threat against the airline.
Sikh militants are blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India jetliner. Flight 192, which had departed Montreal for India, via London, disintegrated over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 people on board. It was the worst terrorist attack in Canadian history.
Pannun told the newspaper he would let American officials respond regarding specifics of the plot against him.
“The threat to an American citizen on American soil is a challenge to America’s sovereignty, and I trust the Biden administration is more than capable to handle any such challenges,” said Pannun.
India’s external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing, or RAW, has planned assassinations targeting Sikh and Kashmiri activists living in foreign countries, according to The Intercept, citing what the online nonprofit news site said were secret Pakistani intelligence assessments that had been leaked to it.
Pakistan has previously made public allegations that RAW was involved in bombings and targeted killings inside India, including attacks on Chinese nationals working in the country.
India regularly accuses Pakistan of supporting armed attacks inside Indian-administered Kashmir. The region has been the subject of a territorial dispute between the two nuclear-armed neighbors going back to 1947, when the subcontinent was partitioned by the departing British colonialists.