DOJ Charges Man Allegedly Hired by India to Assassinate Sikh Separatist on US Soil

A law enforcement officer posing as a hitman was offered $100,000 to kill a leader of an NYC-based Sikh separatist orgnization.
DOJ Charges Man Allegedly Hired by India to Assassinate Sikh Separatist on US Soil
The U.S. Department of Justice building in Washington on March 28, 2023. (Madalina Vasiliu/The Epoch Times)
Bill Pan

An Indian man has been charged for allegedly working for the Indian government to assassinate a U.S. citizen in New York City who advocates for the Sikh separatist movement, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday.

Nikhil “Nick” Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian national, was charged with murder-for-hire over the foiled plot, according to the indictment released by the U.S. Department of Justice. Mr. Gupta was involved in international narcotics and weapons trafficking before he was allegedly recruited by an Indian government employee in May to pursue the assassination scheme.

That government employee was not named or charged. The indictment said he directed the assassination plot from India, and has variously described himself as a “senior field officer.”

According to court filings, Mr. Gupta was directed by the Indian officer to contact a “criminal associate” in the United States about for assistance in hiring a hitman would could to murder the intended victim in New York City.

That criminal associate, the indictment said, was in fact an undercover agent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The undercover agent said he would assassinate the target for $100,000, and Mr. Gupta paid a $15,000 upfront in cash via an associate in June.

As the plan unfolded, Mr. Gupta would regularly brief the Indian officer on how the plan was progressing and provide him with surveillance photos and other items at his request. At one point, according to the document, Mr. Gupta urged the undercover agent—who was posing as a hitman—to “carry out the murder as soon as possible,” but also specifically told the agent not to commit the murder around the time of anticipated meetings between “high-level U.S. and Indian government officials.”

This is a likely reference to the state visit by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this June, a high-profile event in which President Joe Biden affirmed that the Washington-New Delhi partnership is “stronger, closer, and more dynamic than any time in history.”

The alleged target of the plot was also not named. The victim is only described as a “vocal critic of the Indian government” and a leader of a “U.S.-based organization” advocating for the secession of the northern Indian state of Punjab, which is historically and culturally significant to Sikhs.

An ethno-religious minority, India’s 23 million Sikhs make up about 2 percent of the population overall, as compared to 80 percent for Hindus. Some 18 million of them live in Punjab, where they constitute 58 percent of the state’s population.

While the court filings didn’t name the victim, major U.S. news outlets have identified him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a New York City-based advocacy group that supports transforming Punjab into an independent, Sikh-majority nation called Khalistan.
In 2019, India banned Sikh for Justice for “anti-India” and secessionist activities, claiming that it was associated with the violent wing of the Sikh separatist movement. In 2021, the group organized an unsanctioned referendum on the creation of an independent Sikh state in London for Indian Sikhs.

In October, Sikh for Justice held another referendum in Canada for Indian Sikh diasporas, months following the death of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar. A Canadian citizen, Mr. Nijjar was shot and killed by masked gunmen on June 18 outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia.

The killing of Mr. Nijjar, which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said was linked to the Modi administration, has caused political tensions between the two countries. The Modi administration has denied such allegations, and expelled a senior Canadian diplomat after Canada expelled a senior Indian diplomat.

According to Wednesday’s indictment, the Indian officer sent Mr. Gupta a video clip showing Mr. Nijjar’s “bloody body slumped in his vehicle,” and a hour later, the street address of the alleged U.S. victim’s home in New York City.

A day later, Mr. Gupta told the undercover officer that Mr. Nijjar “was also a target” and “we have so many targets.” He added that, in light of Mr. Nijjar’s death, there was now “no need to wait” on taking out the U.S. target.

Mr. Gupta was arrested in Czech Republic on June 30 and is being extradited to the United States under a bilateral extradition treaty, the Justice Department said.

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