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U.S. charges Indian national with plotting to assassinate Sikh separatist in New York

Trudeau accuses India of killing in Canada
Justin Trudeau accuses India of killing Canadian Sikh activist 06:39

Washington — Federal prosecutors in New York charged an Indian national with an alleged plot to kill a Sikh political activist living in the U.S., an explosive case that could have broader ramifications for relations between the two allies amid allegations of a similar plot in Canada.

Nikhil Gupta, who resides in India, is charged with two counts of murder-for-hire and conspiracy. He was arrested over the summer in Europe and is pending extradition. 

In court documents unsealed Tuesday, investigators in the Southern District of New York alleged Gupta was recruited by an unnamed Indian government official who had claimed to be part of that nation's intelligence community. At the official's direction, Gupta and another unnamed contact tried to hire a hitman to murder the unnamed victim, who prosecutors described in court papers as a vocal critic of the Indian government and staunch advocate for a Sikh sovereign state in the region. The activist had been banned from India for his separatist views and now lives in the U.S., according to the charging documents. 

The hitman, who would have been paid at least $100,000 in cash, was actually an undercover federal agent, and the unnamed co-conspirator he discussed the plot with was a confidential government source, prosecutors revealed. 

The alleged assassination plot

The alleged conspiracy began in May 2023, according to court papers, with Gupta and the intelligence official even meeting in New Delhi to discuss the planned assassination. 

"We will hit our all Targets," Gupta allegedly wrote in a text message to the Indian intelligence officer.

Court records describe an alleged video call between Gupta and the U.S. source, in which Gupta suggested they pose as a potential client for the victim, who is a lawyer, in an attempt "to lure the Victim to a place where he could be more easily executed." 

"Finish him brother finish him," Gupta allegedly told the federal informant, "push these guys…finish the job." He later urged the crew he was allegedly working with to "calm down" during an anticipated period of high-level diplomatic talks between the U.S. and India. 

Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30, court papers said. The two charges in New York each carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

His arrest comes amid increased tensions between the U.S. and Canada and India after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there was "credible" evidence tying the Indian government to the murder of another Sikh separatist leader in Canada earlier this fall. India has firmly denied any role in the killing.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar was fatally shot by unidentified gunmen in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18, and Trudeau's allegation of Indian involvement led to a major diplomatic row between the two nations.

U.S. prosecutors alleged Nijjar's murder motivated Gupta to accelerate his own plan against the activist in New York. According to court documents, the Indian intelligence official with whom Gupta was in contact sent Gupta a picture of Nijjar's body and Gupta replied that "he wished he had personally conducted the killing," as prosecutors put it. 

"He will be more cautious, because in Canada, his colleague is down," Gupta is accused of telling the confidential federal source, allegedly adding later, "Put everyone down." Gupta allegedly stated that before the end of June, four "jobs" had to be completed: one in the U.S. and three in Canada. 

The Financial Times first reported a plot to kill an Indian Sikh on U.S. soil last week and named the intended victim as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S.-Canadian dual national who India's government considers a terrorist.

In response to the story, U.S. officials said they had spoken with their counterparts in India about the allegations.

"We are treating this issue with utmost seriousness, and it has been raised by the U.S. Government with the Indian Government, including at the senior-most levels. Indian counterparts expressed surprise and concern. They stated that activity of this nature was not their policy," a National Security Council spokeswoman said last week. "Based on discussion with senior U.S. Government officials, we understand the Indian government is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days. We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable."

The Indian Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Gupta's arrest.

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