US thwarted plot to kill Khalistan separatist Pannun, warned India, says report

SFJ’s Pannun was target, reports FT; India takes US inputs seriously, being examined, says MEA

THE UNITED States “thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate” Khalistan separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on American soil and “issued a warning to India’s government over concerns it was involved in the plot,” UK-based daily Financial Times has reported, citing multiple sources.

This comes two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that Canadian security agencies were probing “credible allegations” about a potential link between Indian government agents and the killing of Khalistan separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Vancouver in June. The Indian government had rejected Canada’s allegations as “absurd” and “motivated”.

But this time, India has said that it takes the US inputs on security “seriously”, and “issues” in this context were being examined.

Responding to queries on the FT report, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) official spokesperson, Arindam Bagchi, said on Wednesday: “During the course of recent discussions on India-US security cooperation, the US side shared some inputs pertaining to nexus between organised criminals, gun-runners, terrorists and others. The inputs are a cause of concern for both countries and they decided to take necessary follow-up action.”

“On its part, India takes such inputs seriously since it impinges on our own national security interests as well. Issues in the context of US inputs are already being examined by relevant departments,” he said.

When asked about the report, the spokesperson for the US Embassy in New Delhi said: “We do not comment on diplomatic, law enforcement, or intelligence discussions with our partners.”

According to the FT report, the US, Canada and allies shared details – the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are part of the intelligence-sharing network “Five Eyes” – and the Nijjar killing and the Pannun assassination plot sparked concerns “about a possible pattern of behaviour” on Delhi’s part.

“Washington shared details of the Pannun case with a wider group of allies after Trudeau went public with details of the Vancouver killing, the combination of which sparked concern among allies about a possible pattern of behaviour,” it said.

The FT report said the US protest was issued after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to Washington in June this year. It was not clear “whether the protest to New Delhi led the plotters to abandon their plan, or whether the FBI intervened and foiled a scheme already in motion,” it said.

Separate from the diplomatic warning, US federal prosecutors have filed a sealed indictment against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot in a New York district court, FT said, quoting sources.

“The US justice department is debating whether to unseal the indictment and make the allegations public or wait until Canada finishes its investigation into Nijjar’s murder. Further complicating the case, one person charged in the indictment is believed to have left the US,” it said.

The report said the US justice department and FBI declined to comment on the matter. “The National Security Council said the US does ‘not comment on ongoing law enforcement matters or private diplomatic discussions with our partners’ but added: ‘Upholding the safety and security of US citizens is paramount’,” it said.

The report said Pannun “declined to say whether US authorities had warned him about the plot, saying he would ‘let the US government respond to the issue of threats to my life on American soil from the Indian operatives’.”

“The threat to an American citizen on American soil is a challenge to America’s sovereignty, and I trust that the Biden administration is more than capable to handle any such challenge,” Pannun was quoted as saying.

Pannun, a dual citizen of the US and Canada, is the general counsel for Sikhs for Justice. Earlier this week, the NIA booked him under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for allegedly threatening passengers flying via Air India.

While the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had banned the SFJ on July 10, 2019 under the UAPA, Pannun was designated an “individual terrorist” on July 1, 2020.

While Biden had raised the Canadian allegations with Modi at the G20 Summit in India in September, the White House declined to say whether he raised the Pannun case, the report said.

A key difference between the US and Canadian allegations is the fact that the US administration has not aired these allegations in public so far. The robustness of the political ties between India and the US will be tested once again, after their public differences on the Russia-Ukraine war.

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