The US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Wednesday an indictment against an Indian national named Nikhil Gupta for an alleged unsuccessful plot to assassinate a US citizen of Indian descent who is a Sikh separatist.
The unsealed indictment accuses Gupta of making payments for the victim’s murder and instructing that the murder should not occur during “anticipated high-level diplomatic engagement” between India and the US. According to the indictment, Gupta paid and gave directions about the assassination to an undercover US agent pretending to be a hitman. Additionally, the indictment describes the victim as a vocal critic of the Indian government living in New York City. The victim is also a leader of a US-based organization that advocates for the secession of Punjab from India and the establishment of a Sikh sovereign state. The indictment charged Gupta with murder-for-hire conspiracy and murder-for-hire.
In response to the announcement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams stated:
As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India. I am grateful that my Office and our law enforcement partners neutralized this deadly and outrageous threat. We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad.
Czech law enforcement arrested Gupta in the Czech Republic in June 2023 at the request of the US.
Although the indictment does not name the victim of the assassination plot, several sources have reported that the victim is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Pannun is reported to be general counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a US-based group that advocates for the secession of Punjab—where Sikhs are the religious majority—from India to form the state of “Khalistan.”
In response to the situation, official spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs for the Government of India Shri Arindam Bagchi stated:
We have already said that during the course of discussions with the US on bilateral security cooperation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organized criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others. We had also indicated that India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on our national security interests as well, and relevant departments were already examining the issue. In this context, it is informed that on 18 November 2023, the Government of India constituted a high-level Enquiry Committee to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter. Government of India will take necessary follow-up action based on the findings of the Enquiry Committee.
Wednesday’s announcement comes just a few months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that India’s government may have carried out the murder of Sikh community leader and gurdwara president Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was gunned down in June in the parking lot of his Surrey, British Columbia place of worship. The September announcement from Trudeau has since strained diplomatic relations between Canada and India.