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How US officials foiled a plot to assassinate Sikh leader Pannun

According to the US officials, Nikhil Gupta instructed an undercover agent posing as a hitman to expedite the assassination of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

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U.S. prosecutors say they have foiled a plot to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a prominent Sikh separatist leader based in New York. The plan, which aimed to target multiple activists advocating for the secession of the northern Punjab state in India, was uncovered through a meticulous undercover sting operation involving an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta.

Nikhil Gupta, the alleged key orchestrator of the planned assassinations, was caught red-handed in a web of electronic communications, audio, and video calls, all secretly recorded or obtained by U.S. law enforcement. The indictment, unsealed on Wednesday, detailed discussions among the conspirators about targeting individuals not only in New York but also in California and Canada.

According to the indictment, the timeline of the plot revealed an urgency to carry out the assassinations, intending to claim at least four lives in the United States and Canada by June 29. Following the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18, Gupta instructed an undercover agent posing as a hitman to expedite the assassination of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.

“We got the go-ahead to go anytime, even today, tomorrow – as early as possible. Put everyone down,” Gupta urged, according to the indictment. The plans, however, were thwarted as the hitman turned out to be an undercover U.S. agent.

The U.S. attorney in Manhattan officially announced charges against Nikhil Gupta, revealing that a high-ranking official in the Indian government directed the plot to kill Pannun. While the official’s identity remains undisclosed in the indictment, he was described as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in security management and intelligence.

The Indian government official told Gupta that he had a target in New York and a target in California, the indictment said. They ultimately settled on a $100,000 price, and by June 3, Gupta was urging his criminal contact in America to “finish him, brother, finish him, don’t take too much time …. push these guys, push these guys … finish
the job.”

Indian officials denied any complicity in Nijjar’s slaying, and the External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, stated that the Indian government had initiated a high-level inquiry after U.S. authorities raised concerns about the plot.

The investigation into the conspiracy began when Gupta, in his quest for a hitman, unknowingly contacted a Drug Enforcement Administration informant, a narcotics trafficker. Over weeks of communication, the informant and Gupta brought in the undercover agent, ultimately exposing the assassination plot.

Gupta, who allegedly boasted of being behind both the Canadian and New York assassination plots, was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30. The specific timeline for his extradition to the United States remains unclear, and it is unknown who will provide legal representation upon his arrival.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who was listed as an “individual terrorist” in 2020 by New Delhi, remains undeterred by the foiled plot and vowed to continue his work despite the threats on his life. In an interview with The Associated Press, Pannun expressed scepticism about India’s investigation into the assassination plots, accusing the government of funding attempts on his life.

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