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US Accuses Indian Government of Directing Alleged Murder Plot Involving BC Killing

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American prosecutors say a man allegedly involved in a $100,000 murder plot against a Sikh activist on U.S. soil also discussed the killing of Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar, just hours after Mr. Nijjar was gunned down outside a British Columbia temple.

The murder-for-hire indictment against Nikhil Gupta, 52, says he told an undercover officer who he thought was a hit man that Mr. Nijjar “was also the target,” and because he was dead, there was “no need to wait” on the next killing.

The indictment, unsealed in Manhattan Federal Court on Nov. 29, says Mr. Gupta, an Indian national, was recruited by an Indian government employee to orchestrate the killing of the activist.

The alleged target isn’t named in the document, but has previously been identified by U.S. officials as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen.

The indictment says Mr. Gupta told an undercover officer the day after Mr. Nijjar’s murder in Surrey, B.C., last June that “we have so many targets.”

It says the plot was directed by an Indian government employee who has described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence.”

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in September there were “credible allegations” linking Mr. Nijjar’s killing to India’s government, claims that New Delhi called absurd.

Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said on Nov. 29 the U.S. indictment “confirms that Canada is not alone at managing these particular threats.”

“What’s important for us is the government of Canada and agencies like the RCMP and the intelligence service do everything that they can to protect Canadians, but also to hold accountable those who murdered a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil.”

Mr. Pannun said in a statement the Indian government wanted to kill him because of his role organizing unofficial referendums on Sikh independence, saying it had extended overseas “its policy of violently crushing” the movement.

Both Mr. Pannun and Mr. Nijjar were prominent members of Sikhs for Justice, the group organizing the votes.

“The attempt on my life on American soil is the blatant case of India’s transnational terrorism which has become a challenge to America’s sovereignty and threat to freedom of speech and democracy,” Mr. Pannun said.

Mr. Gupta has been charged with murder for hire and conspiracy to commit murder for hire.

“The defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release.

Czech authorities arrested and detained Mr. Gupta on June 30 in the Czech Republic through a bilateral extradition treaty between the U.S. and the Czech Republic, according to the release. It was not immediately clear when he might be brought to the United States.

The unnamed Indian government employee recruited Mr. Gupta last May to orchestrate the assassination, the indictment said.

In June, the Indian government employee gave Mr. Gupta the home address of Mr. Pannun, his phone numbers, and details about his daily conduct, including surveillance photographs, which Mr. Gupta then passed along to the undercover agent, the indictment said.

It said Mr. Gupta directed the undercover agent to carry out the murder as soon as possible, but also warned the agent not to commit the killing around the time of anticipated engagements between high-level U.S. and Indian officials.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said little on Nov. 29 about the unfolding murder-for-hire plot and its echoes of a similar investigation in Canada.

“When it comes to what’s happening in the U.S., I won’t comment directly because, of course, I respect the work that the American law enforcement agencies are doing and I respect also the independence of their legal system,” she said.

“We stand by our own credible allegations that there was the killing of a Canadian, on Canadian soil, linking to Indian agents.”

Mr. LeBlanc said he could not discuss details of any investigations.

“I’m not going to discuss the details of what evidence has or hasn’t been handed over by a Canadian police agency to an international partner,” he said as he arrived on Parliament Hill.

The White House declined to comment directly on the charges against Mr. Gupta, but stressed administration officials acted quickly.

“When we were made aware of the fact that the defendant in this case had credibly indicated that he was directed to arrange the murder by an individual who is assessed to be an employee of the Indian Government, we took this information very seriously and engaged in direct conversations with the Indian government at the highest levels to express our concern,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.

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