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US thwarted conspiracy to assassinate Sikh separatist on American soil, says FT report

Late on Wednesday night, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi responded to queries without any direct reference to the FT report

Our Bureau New Delhi Published 23.11.23, 05:35 AM
Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. File Photo

An NIA raid at 14 locations in Punjab and Haryana in search of Khalistani sympathisers on Wednesday coincided with a report in the Financial Times newspaper that the US had thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil and issued a warning to India over concerns it was involved in the plot.

The US protest was issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington in June, the report said.


Pannun is the “general counsel” for Sikhs for Justice, a North America-based Khalistani outfit accused of secessionist activities in Punjab and outlawed in India.

In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said security agencies in his country were probing “credible allegations” about a potential link between Indian government agents and the killing of another Khalistan leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, on Canadian soil in June.

The allegation led to an escalating diplomatic row between the two countries, with India suspending all visa services for Canadians and forcing the withdrawal of 41 diplomats by threatening to revoke their immunity. It has since resumed some of the visa services.

“Washington shared details of the Pannun case with a wider group of allies after Trudeau went public with details of the Vancouver killing, the combination of which sparked concern among allies about a possible pattern of behaviour,” the Financial Times report said.

Late on Wednesday night, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi responded to queries without any direct reference to the FT report. He did not issue a denial of the report.

Responding to queries on “reports of discussions between India and USA on security matters”, Bagchi said: “During the course of recent discussions on India-US security cooperation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others.”

Stating that the inputs are a cause of concern for both countries, he said the two nations had decided to take necessary follow-up action.

“India takes such inputs seriously since it impinges on our own national security interests as well. Issues in the context of US inputs are already being examined by relevant departments.”

The US embassy spokesperson, when asked for a response and whether Washington had officially raised the issue with India, said: “We do not comment on diplomatic, law enforcement, or intelligence discussions with our partners.”

Days after Trudeau made the allegation about Nijjar’s killing, US ambassador to Canada David L. Cohen had told the Canadian news network CTV: “There was shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners that helped lead Canada to make the statements that the Prime Minister made. This was a matter of shared intelligence information. There was a lot of communication between Canada and the United States about this.”

Five Eyes is an intelligence-sharing alliance of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

As in the case with Canada, the US is also concerned about the security of an American citizen and the violation of sovereignty. The FT report quotes the National Security Council as saying: “Upholding the safety and security of US citizens is paramount.”

Officials did not reveal to FT whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the FBI intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion.

Separate from the diplomatic warning, US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot in a New York district court, the FT report said, quoting sources.

“The US justice department is debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar’s murder. Further complicating the case, one person charged in the indictment is believed to have left the US,” the FT report said.

On Monday, the NIA registered a fresh case against “designated individual terrorist” Pannun over his latest viral video threatening passengers flying Air India.

Pannun was declared a designated individual terrorist on July 1, 2020, and has been actively exhorting Punjab-based gangsters and youths over social media to fight for the cause of an independent state of Khalistan.

An NIA spokesperson on Wednesday said a total of 14 locations were raided in Punjab and Haryana in a bid to unravel the conspiracy behind the March 19 and July 2 attacks, involving criminal trespass, vandalism, damage to public property and attempts to cause hurt to consulate officials and set the consulate building on fire in San Francisco.

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