An Indian government official led an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist on US soil, the US Justice Department said on Wednesday, announcing charges against a man accused of orchestrating the assassination attempt.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan said Nikhil Gupta, 52, worked with the Indian government official, whose responsibilities included security and intelligence, to kill a New York resident who supported a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.
Prosecutors did not name the Indian official or the target. Gupta was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition. He could not be reached for comment.
“The defendant conspired from India to assassinate, here in New York, an American citizen of Indian origin who has publicly supported the establishment of a sovereign state for the Sikhs,” said Damian Williams, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan. statement.
India’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The charges come after a senior Biden administration official last week said US authorities had foiled a plot to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States and issued a warning to India over concerns the government in New Delhi was involved.
The official said Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who says he is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada, was the target of the foiled plot.
Prosecutors did not name the target of the alleged plot by Gupta, who they described as an outspoken critic of the Indian government who heads a US-based organization that supports the secession of India’s Punjab state, which is home to a large Sikh population.
Also Read: US foils plot to kill Sikh separatist, warns India – FT
News of the incident comes two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June killing of a Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a suburb of Vancouver, which India has rejected.
According to prosecutors, the official recruited Gupta in May 2023 to orchestrate the murder. Gupta had previously told the official that he was involved in drug and arms trafficking, prosecutors said.
Gupta then contacted someone he believed to be a criminal associate for help hiring a hitman, but that associate was actually an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, prosecutors said.
The day after Nijjar was killed, Gupta wrote to an undercover DEA agent saying Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets,” prosecutors said.
Gupta faces two counts of murder-for-hire conspiracy and murder-for-hire. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.
The Indian government has protested the presence of separatist Sikh groups outside India, including in Canada and the United States. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, or the demand for an independent Sikh state away from India.
The movement is considered a security threat by India. Sikh militants were blamed for the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 flying from Canada to India, killing all 329 on board.
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