NIA registers fresh case against SFJ and Pannun over threat to Air India

Pannun had recently released a recent video clip threatening Air India with a global blockade and warning Sikhs against flying with the airline; properties linked to him in India were confiscated earlier this year

Published - November 20, 2023 07:52 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of National Investigation Agency (NIA), in New Delhi. File

A view of National Investigation Agency (NIA), in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The National Investigation Agency (NIA) has booked the banned United States-based outfit, Sikhs For Justice (SFJ), and its founder Gurpatwant Singh Pannun over a recent video clip threatening Air India with a global blockade from November 19 and warning Sikhs that flying with the airline “could put their lives in danger”.

Security forces in Canada, India, and certain other countries where Air India operates had also sounded a high alert and launched investigations following the threats issued by Pannun, said the agency on Monday.

The NIA has invoked several provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act against SFJ and Pannun, who was designated as an “individual terrorist” by the Ministry of Home Affairs on July 1, 2020. The outfit was banned on July 10, 2019.

The agency said Pannun, the self-proclaimed general counsel of SFJ, again came under its scanner after the release and circulation of video messages on various social media platforms, in which members of the Sikh community were urged not to fly with Air India from November 19 onwards. The accused had claimed that there would be a “threat to their lives” if they took the airline’s flights.

“Pannun also threatened that Air India would not be allowed to operate across the world,” the NIA said, adding that his video messages were released on November 4. The accused had also issued a warning to the Indian government, stating that Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports, would remain closed on November 19.

Taking the threat seriously, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security had ordered that all Air India passengers at Delhi and Punjab airports would be put through a “secondary ladder point check” before passenger boarding. Entry of visitors to the airport’s terminal building and sale of visitor-entry tickets were also banned.

The NIA alleged that as part of his concerted plan to revive and promote terror acts in India, Pannun had been creating a false narrative around the issues prevailing in Punjab, “especially with regard to the Sikh religion, by promoting enmity between the Sikhs in the country and other communities”.

“The latest threat is in line with the same narrative, which Pannun has actively promoted in the past by threatening and attempting to disrupt essential transportation network systems, including the Railways, as well as thermal power plants in India,” it alleged.

On September 29, the Ahmedabad’s Cyber Crime Branch in Gujarat had registered a First Information Report against Pannun for allegedly threatening to turn the Cricket World Cup, which started at Narendra Modi Stadium on October 5, into a “World Terror Cup”.

The NIA had registered the first case against Pannun in 2019. In September 2023, it confiscated properties linked to him, including his share in a house in Chandigarh and land parcel in Amritsar. Non-Bailable Warrants of arrest were issued against him by a NIA special court on February 3, 2021, and he was declared a “Proclaimed Offender” on November 29, 2022.

Pannun, who is being probed by various Indian enforcement agencies in relation to nearly two dozen criminal cases, and his organisation, SFJ, had come into the limelight after he started calling for pro-Khalistan “referendums” in different countries. Since 2017, several cases have been registered against him after “Referendum 2020” posters and pro-Khalistan slogans appeared on walls in different parts of Punjab. Some cases pertain to seditious pre-recorded phone messages received by a large number of people.

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