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US claims it foiled alleged Indian plot to assassinate Sikh separatist leader

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has been named in US media as the target of the alleged plot

The United States has said it foiled an alleged Indian plot to assassinate an American-Canadian citizen in New York who advocated establishing a sovereign state for Sikhs in northern India.

The US Justice Department said on Wednesday an Indian government official directed a $100,000 plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a dual citizen of the United States and Canada who is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

But the hitman was actually a Drug Enforcement Administration  (DEA) undercover agent, prosecutors said.

The Indian government official was only described as “CC-1” in an indictment unsealed in Manhattan federal court that charged Nikhil Gupta, 52, an Indian national who had lived in India, with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire.

US Attorney Damian Williams and other federal officials announced the charges in a press release.

"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," Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said in the statement.

The Indian official was described in the related indictment as a "Senior Field Officer" with responsibilities in "Security Management" and "Intelligence" employed by the Indian government who "directed the plot from India."

A senior Biden administration official last week said American authorities had thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist leader in the United States and warned New Delhi over concerns the Indian government was involved.

Since the 1980s, India has targeted the separatist movement that sought the creation of an independent country for the Sikhs, called Khalistan.

A senior US official said on Wednesday that Biden instructed CIA director Bill Burns to travel to India to deliver a message that "we will not tolerate such activities and that we expect those responsible to be held fully accountable."

Biden also raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the G20 summit, where he "emphasized the seriousness of this issue and the potential repercussions for our bilateral relationship were similar threats to persist," the official added.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Blinken also discussed the issue with India's foreign minister.

News of the alleged plot comes after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was "credible" evidence tying the Indian government to the murder of another Sikh activist in British Columbia in June.

Canada said it was “actively pursuing credible allegations” linking Indian government agents to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, and expelled the head of Indian intelligence in Canada as a consequence.

India dismissed the accusation as “absurd and motivated” and called on Canada instead to take legal action against anti-Indian elements operating from its soil.

Trudeau said the indictment on Wednesday underscored the need for India to take that allegation seriously.

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