American prosecutors say a man allegedly involved in a murder plot against a Sikh activist on U.S. soil also discussed the killing of Canadian Hardeep Singh Nijjar, just hours after Nijjar was gunned down outside a British Columbia temple.
The murder-for-hire indictment against Nikhil Gupta, 52, says he told an undercover officer who he thought was a hit man that Nijjar “was also the target,” and because he was dead, there was “no need to wait” on the next killing.
The indictment says Gupta was recruited by an Indian government employee to orchestrate the killing of the activist, who isn’t named in the document, but has previously been identified by U.S. officials as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
The indictment unsealed in Manhattan Federal Court says Gupta told an undercover officer the day after Nijjar’s murder in Surrey, B.C., last June that “we have so many targets.”
It says the plot was directed by an Indian government employee who has described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence.”
Pannun, a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen, says in a statement the Indian government wants to kill him because of his role organizing unofficial referendums on Sikh independence, saying it had extended overseas “its policy of violently crushing” the movement.
Both Pannun and Nijjar were prominent members of Sikhs for Justice, the group organizing the votes.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in September there were “credible allegations” linking Nijjar’s killing to India’s government.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said little Wednesday about the unfolding murder-for-hire plot and its echoes of a similar investigation in Canada.
“When it comes to what’s happening in the U.S., I won’t comment directly because of course, I respect the work that the American law enforcement agencies are doing and I respect also the independence of their legal system,” she said.
“We stand by our own credible allegations that there was the killing of a Canadian, on Canadian soil, linking to Indian agents.”
Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc deflected a barrage of questions about the indictment Wednesday as he arrived on Parliament Hill.
“I’m not going to discuss the details of what evidence has or hasn’t been handed over by a Canadian police agency to an international partner,” he said.
“What I can say is that our expectation – and the prime minister said this in his first comments in September – is that the Indian government be fully engaged with Canadian law in this investigation.”
– With files from The Associated Press
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2023.