Washington warned India against plot to kill Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in U.S.: report

Ministry of External Affairs says that a security-related discussion took place between India and the U.S.; sources, however, did not clarify when exactly the discussion took place

November 22, 2023 04:50 pm | Updated 11:29 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A participant holds a banner depicting Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun during a rally in New Delhi on September 24, 2023.

A participant holds a banner depicting Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun during a rally in New Delhi on September 24, 2023. | Photo Credit: AFP

The U.S. government thwarted a plot to kill Khalistani separatist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on U.S. soil, and “warned” New Delhi about its alleged involvement in the plot, the Financial Times (FT) has reported. Mr. Pannun, who is a designated terrorist in India, is an American and Canadian citizen and the legal counsel for Sikhs for Justice, a body that advocates for a separate Sikh homeland of Khalistan, carved out of India.

The FT report comes some two months after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that the government was behind the killing of another Khalistani separatist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia in June this year. New Delhi has denied any involvement in Nijjar’s killing. The U.S. had worked with Canada on the investigation into Nijjar’s death with top officials in the Biden administration urging New Delhi to cooperate with the probe.

Also read | White House supports Canadian probe into ‘serious allegations’ around Nijjar’s killing, urges India to cooperate: John Kirby

The FT’s anonymous sources did not say whether the alleged plot to kill Mr. Pannun was abandoned because Washington had warned New Delhi about the matter or whether the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had foiled it. The U.S also informed some of its allies about the alleged plot after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s June visit to Washington DC, as per the report.

Separately, the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) has filed a sealed indictment in a New York court against one of the accused, the FT reported, adding that one other individual charged in the case has left the U.S. The DoJ is deliberating on whether to unseal the indictment, the report says.

U.S. side shared some inputs: india

The Ministry of External Affairs said that a security-related discussion took place between India and the U.S. 

“During the course of recent discussions on India-U.S. security cooperation, the U.S. 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... India takes such inputs seriously since it impinges on our own national security interests as well,” said MEA Official Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi in a statement.

Sources, however, did not clarify when exactly the discussion took place between the two sides. “Issues in the context of U.S. inputs are already being examined by relevant departments,” Mr. Bagchi said. 

India banned SFJ in 2019 and declared Mr. Pannun an “individual terrorist” in 2020. A National Investigation Agency (NIA) special court had issued Non-Bailable Warrants against him in November 2022. Two of his Punjab-based properties were confiscated by the NIA in September this year.

The agency filed a case against Mr. Pannun on November 20 for a November 4 video in which he appeared to make death threats to Sikhs traveling on Air India after November 19 (to coincide with the Cricket World Cup final).

Speaking at the Royal Overseas League in London on November 15, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had pushed back against the idea that if India was conducting extra-territorial assassinations then it was simply doing what other powers - including the U.S. - were doing.

“That’s not the logic which should be pursued in this day and age,” Mr. Jaishankar had said.

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