Leyland Cecco, The Guardian
A prominent Sikh activist who was reportedly the target of a foiled assassination attempt on US soil has accused India of “transnational terrorism” after Washington raised concerns the Indian government may have had knowledge of the plot.
The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the US had thwarted the plot to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian citizen, after the June murder of another Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb.
“The foiled attempt on my life on American soil by the Indian agents is transnational terrorism which is a threat to the US sovereignty, freedom of speech and democracy, so I will let the US government respond to this threat,” Pannun said in a statement to the Guardian, adding India was “using mercenaries” to target and kill Sikh activists who support calls for an independent Sikh homeland.
Pannun said his focus “is not threats to my life” but instead on organizing an upcoming symbolic separatist referendum in San Francisco.
Washington has raised concerns with New Delhi that the Indian government may have had knowledge of the plot.
It was unclear when or how US officials became aware of the plot or how the alleged assassination was derailed, but the White House said it was taking the allegations seriously.
A White House spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, said in a statement that Indian officials “expressed surprise and concern” at the accusations, suggesting extraterritorial assassinations were “not their policy”.
“We understand the Indian government is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days. We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable,” said Watson.
The protest to Delhi was registered after the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, was welcomed on a state visit by the US president, Joe Biden, in June, the report said.
The report came two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb. India has rejected Canada’s accusations.
Apart from the diplomatic warning to India, US federal prosecutors have also filed a sealed indictment against at least one suspect in a New York district court, the FT report said.
Pannun, like Nijjar, is a proponent of a decades-long but now fringe demand to carve out an independent Sikh homeland from India, named Khalistan.
The FT report said Pannun had declined to say whether US authorities had warned him about the plot, but quoted him as saying he would “let the US government respond to the issue of threats to my life on American soil from the Indian operatives”.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, Pannun accused Indian officials in Canada of trying to “scuttle the investigation” into the assassination of Nijjar. In the five months since the prominent activist was killed in a hail of gunfire, no arrests have been made.
“I understand how these investigations into transitional killings work: it’s not a simple murder in Toronto or Vancouver. It’s a well-organised murder of a pro-Khalistan activist. This takes time and I’m confident Canadian agencies [have the] expertise and integrity to see this through.”
Canada worked very closely with the US on intelligence that Indian agents could have been involved in Nijjar’s murder, a senior Canadian government source told Reuters in September.
The Financial Times report mentioned that the US shared details of the thwarted plot with a wider group of allies after Canada’s public accusation.
In 2020, India declared Pannun as a terrorist.