- An Indian government official was involved in an attempted assassination on US soil, the Justice Department says.
- The official also appeared to be involved in the earlier killing of a Sikh separatist in Canada, according to the indictment.
- Any involvement from India in the assassination scheme threatens US-India relations.
A member of the Indian government directed a foiled plot to assassinate a US citizen on American soil, according to a newly unsealed federal indictment.
The indictment, brought by federal prosecutors in Manhattan Wednesday, identifies the Indian official only as “CC-1” and describes them as a “Senior Field Employee” within India’s government with responsibilities in “Intelligence.”
The allegations are included in an updated criminal indictment against Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national who, according to a previous indictment first filed in June, hired a hitman for the assassination plot.
The victim in the plot was meant to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, according to the Washington Post. Pannum, a lawyer and citizen in the US and Canada, is a leader of a Sikh separatist movement that calls for an independent Sikh state in Punjab.
In May, the Indian government employee recruited Gupta to orchestrate the plot to kill Pannum, according to the Justice Department indictment. The two met in person in New Delhi at the time, prosecutors say.
Gupta, in turn, contacted another person to broker a deal with a hitman to carry out the plot in New York City, according to prosecutors. The two found another person who agreed to accept $100,000 to kill Pannum, the indictment says.
The Indian government employee also said he had another “target” in California, according to the indictment.
“We will hit our all Targets,” Gupta responded, according to prosecutors.
The Indian government official appeared to be in a rush. On June 3, Gupta urged the assassin to finish the job, according to messages obtained by prosecutors.
“finish him brother, finish him, don’t take too much time … push these guys, push these guys .. . , finish the job,” he told him over a phone call, according to prosecutors.
On June 9, the Indian government employee arranged to deliver $15,000 in cash to the hired assassin in Manhattan as an advance for Pannum’s murder, prosecutors say. The Indian government official also sent “the Victim’s home address in New York City, phone numbers associated with the Victim, and details about the Victim’s day-to-day conduct” to Gupta, who passed them along to the hired assassin, according to the indictment, and asked for “regular updates on the progress of the assassination plot.”
As it turned out, the assassin and broker were both working with US law enforcement, the indictment says.
Prosecutors brought their first set of charges against Gupta on June 13 in a short, three-page indictment. Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30 as part of an extradition treaty.
Biden wants to court India. The assassination plots complicate things.
The assassination plot has created a wedge between India and the United States, which seeks to create deeper ties with the country as a counterweight to China.
President Joe Biden personally raised the issue with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in September, according to the Financial Times. Earlier this year, CIA Director William Burns and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines each flew to India to pressure its government to investigate the plots, according to the Washington Post.
India categorized Pannum as a terrorist in 2020 for his Sikh separatist activism and has outlawed Sikhs for Justice, the secessionist organization he works for, according to the Financial Times.
Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian Sikh separatist leader and friend of Pannum’s, was killed in Surrey on June 18. In September, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused India’s government of being involved in the attack.
“Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the Government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” Trudeau told members of Canada’s parliament at the time. “Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty.”
Contact information for Gupta’s attorney was not immediately available. Representatives for the White House and India’s Ministry of External Affairs didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Wednesday’s 15-page indictment suggests the Indian government official was also involved in Nijjar’s death.
The official sent Gupta “a video clip showing Nijjar’s bloody body slumped in his vehicle” just hours after the killing, the indictment says.
“GUPTA replied that he wished he had personally conducted the killing and asked CC-1 for permission to ‘go to the field,'” the indictment says. “CC-1 responded that ‘secrecy [is] important,’ and ‘it’s better you do not get involved in action.'”
An hour later, the government official sent Gupta Pannum’s address, which Gupta forwarded to the undercover US law enforcement employee who had been hired for the assassination, the indictment says. Gupta told the undercover law enforcement employee that Nijjar “was also the target” but that he was only “#4, #3” on the list, according to the indictment.
“We have so many targets,” Gupta told him, according to the indictment.
In the wake of the Canadian killing, Gupta told the undercover law enforcement employee to kill other people if they got in the way of assassinating Punnam, the indictment says.
“If he is not alone, [if] there are two guys with him in the meeting or something . . . put everyone down, put everyone down,” Gupta said, according to the indictment.
Gupta and the Indian government employee appeared to have plans to carry out more killings, according to prosecutors.
In their communications, they appeared to indicate that they were organized, well-resourced, and methodological with their plans.
In one video call with Gupta, the undercover law enforcement official saw three other men in the room “wearing business attire, sitting around a conference table,” the indictment says.
“We are all counting on you,” Gupta told him in the call.
Gupta said they planned to hire the supposed assassin for more jobs in the United States and Canada if they could pull off Pannum’s killing.
“we will give more bigger job more, more job every month,” Gupta told the undercover law enforcement official in one call, according to the indictment. “every month 2-3 job.”