US authorities had earlier foiled a plot to eliminate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US and Canadian citizen whom India lists as a terrorist A member of United Hindu Front organisation holds a banner depicting Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a lawyer believed to be based in Canada designated as a Khalistani terrorist by the Indian authorities during a rally along a street in New Delhi on September 24, 2023. © Arun SANKAR / AFP
New Delhi has constituted a “high-level committee” to probe the attempted assassination of a US-based Sikh separatist that was reportedly thwarted by Washington.
The Financial Times reported last week that the US government issued a “warning” to India over concerns that New Delhi was “involved in the plot” to eliminate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an attorney based in New York who heads Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a group designated as a terrorist outfit by India. The group is known for its advocacy for a separate Khalistan state to be carved out of Punjab in northwestern India.
The committee was formed on November 18 to look into “all the relevant aspects of the matter,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Wednesday. “The US side shared some inputs pertaining to a nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists, and others,” the spokesperson said, adding that India will take the necessary follow-up action based on the findings of the committee.
Pannun, in a recent interview with Time, termed the episode a “challenge” to American sovereignty. “It is a threat to freedom of speech and democracy in America itself,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine. “But I will let US authorities speak more on this.”
The separatist leader faced charges of terrorism and conspiracy earlier this month for posting a video on social media where he was interpreted as making threats against passengers flying with India’s national carrier, Air India.
“We are asking the Sikh people not to fly via Air India. From November 19, there will be a global blockade. Air India won’t be allowed to operate,” he was quoted by the newspaper Mint as saying in the video. “Sikh people, don’t travel by Air India after November 19. Your life can be in danger.”
The development comes at a time when India is going through an unprecedented diplomatic spat with Canada over similar accusations. In September, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government had credible intelligence linking Indian agents to the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent leader of the Khalistan movement in Canada’s British Columbia province. India has vehemently denied the allegations as “absurd.”
Both the US and Canada are part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing alliance that also includes the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Trudeau’s allegations were based on surveillance of Indian officials and intelligence received from Ottawa’s partners in the alliance, who later urged New Delhi to cooperate in an ongoing investigation into Nijjar’s killing.
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