Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on India to cooperate with India more seriously in the ongoing investigation into the death of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, after the United States charged an Indian national for his alleged involvement in the failed assassination plot of US-based Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York.
Federal prosecutors in the US charged the 52-year-old Nikhil Gupta with murder-for-hire which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Matthew G Olsen. Authorities say that Gupta agreed to pay $100,000 to an undercover law enforcement officer posing as a hitman to kill the 'victim', who is speculated to be Pannun.
"The news coming out of the United States further underscores what we've been talking about from the very beginning: which is India needs to take this seriously," CBC News quoted Trudeau as saying to reporters. "The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we're getting to the bottom of this. This is not something that anyone can take lightly."
Meanwhile, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly said that she would not make remarks on the US criminal case but added she expected more from India. "Clearly, we expect more cooperation on their part. And more engagement on their part," she added.
The US Justice Department unsealed the indictment against the Indian national about two months after Trudeau made allegations about India's involvement in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Colombia's Surrey in June, starting a major diplomatic spat between New Delhi and Ottawa. India had outrightly rejected the allegation, terming it "absurd and politically motivated."
According to the US Department of Justice, Gupta is an Indian national and was an associate of CC-1, who hired Gupta to carry out the task. Not much is known yet about him, except that he was arrested and detained by Czech authorities on June 30 this year "pursuant to the bilateral extradition treaty between the United States and the Czech Republic".
"On or about June 18, masked gunmen murdered Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside a Sikh temple in British Columbia, Canada. Nijjar was an associate of the Victim, and like the Victim, was a leader of the Sikh separatist movement and an outspoken critic of the Indian government. On or about June 19, the day after the Nijjar murder, Gupta told the UC that Nijjar “was also the target” and “we have so many targets"," said the DoJ release.
The indictment against Gupta reportedly mentioned a "big target" in Canada during one phone call days before unidentified gunmen shot and killed Nijjar. Gupta also told the police informant that they had "four jobs" to finish before June 29 — one in New York and "three in Canada".
Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the US in connection with his participation in the plot to murder the individual. It remains unclear when Gupta might be extradited to the US.
India's high-level committee
The development came after the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) on Wednesday said that it has constituted a high-level enquiry committee to look into all relevant aspects regarding the concerns shared by the United States on the nexus between organised criminals, terrorists, gun runners and others.
"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," said MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, adding that the Indian government will take 'necessary follow-up action' based on the findings of the committee.