US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday welcomed India's decision to set up a high-level committee to probe the involvement of an Indian national involved in the failed assassination plot of designated Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Blinken, who is currently in Israel, declined to provide details on the matter as it was an ongoing legal matter.
Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, Blinken said that the US government has raised the matter directly with the Indian government in the past weeks over the alleged plot. This comes a day after the US Department of Justice released an indictment against 52-year-old Nikhil Gupta with charges of murder-for-hire for plotting to kill Pannun in New York.
"A number of us have raised this directly with the Indian Government in the past weeks. The government announced today that it was conducting an investigation, and that's good and appropriate, and we look forward to seeing the results," said Blinken.
The top US diplomat also asserted that the matter was being taken seriously by the Biden administration. "With regard to India, first, this is an ongoing legal matter. So you'll understand I can't comment on it in detail. I can say that this is something we take very seriously."
White House also welcomed India's decision
Meanwhile, the White House also welcomed India's decision to probe the matter and assured that this will not impact the burgeoning relationship between the two countries. "These allegations in this investigation, (we) take it very seriously. And we're glad to see that the Indians are too announcing their own efforts to investigate this. And we've been clear that we want to see anybody that's responsible for these alleged crimes to be held properly accountable," said US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby.
He also noted that the US came to know about the plot after the historic visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Washington in June to meet President Joe Biden.
"I want to be careful here that I don't get ahead of the Department of Justice and talk about an ongoing investigation. I would just say two things. India remains a strategic partner and we're going to continue to work to improve and strengthen that strategic partnership with India. At the same time, we take this very seriously," he added.
What is the case about?
The case pertains to earlier reports that claimed that the US thwarted a plan aimed towards the assassination of Khalistani terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and warned India over concerns that it was involved in the plot.
Meanwhile, Gupta was charged with murder-on-hire, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, said US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Matthew G Olsen. "As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India," said US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams.
In response, India on Thursday said that the individual, who has been indicted in the United States for the failed assassination plot of a Khalistani leader in New York, has been linked to an Indian official, which is "a matter of concern" and asserted that this was against the policy of the Indian government.
"As regards the legal case against an individual that has been filed in a US court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said that this is also contrary to government policy," said Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.
Reiterating India's stance and the constitution of a high-level committee to probe US inputs, Bagchi further said, "The nexus between organised crime, trafficking, gunrunning and extremists at an international level is a serious issue for the law enforcement agencies and organisations to consider and it is for that reason that a high-level inquiry committee has been constituted and we will be guided by its results."
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".
Gupta allegedly described his involvement in international narcotics and weapons trafficking in his communications with CC-1 and others. He was recruited by CC-1 to orchestrate the assassination of the 'victim', who has publicly called for all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, said the DoJ.
(with inputs from agencies)