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India to investigate US allegations of foiled Sikh assassination plot

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India has announced it has formed a committee to investigate security issues after the US warned New Delhi over an alleged assassination plot targeting a Sikh separatist on American soil.

The Financial Times reported last week that US authorities thwarted a conspiracy to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American and Canadian dual citizen, and warned India over concerns that New Delhi was involved in the conspiracy.

The US National Security Council subsequently said American authorities were treating the issue with the “utmost seriousness” and had raised it with India “at the senior-most levels”.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said on Wednesday that the government had established “a high-level inquiry committee to look into all the relevant aspects of the matter” on November 18. It added that it would “take necessary follow-up action” depending on the committee’s findings.

India said the US had previously “shared some inputs pertaining to [the] nexus between organised criminals, gun runners, terrorists and others” and that these were “being examined”.

The FT reported that US President Joe Biden raised the alleged plot with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in New Delhi in September.

The alleged plot was the second to emerge in recent months, after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau linked India to the murder of another Sikh separatist in Vancouver in June.

The FT also reported that US federal prosecutors had filed a sealed indictment in a New York district court against at least one alleged perpetrator of the plot to assassinate Pannun, though at least one person charged is believed to have left the country.

The incidents have raised concerns about New Delhi’s potential involvement in overseas extrajudicial killing plots, and risk complicating efforts to deepen security co-operation between the west and India, which the US sees as an indispensable geopolitical and economic partner amid deteriorating relations with China. Biden hosted Modi in Washington for a state visit in June.

The same month, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, another Sikh separatist, was shot dead in Vancouver, prompting Trudeau to warn in parliament of “credible allegations” connecting New Delhi to the murder.

India responded furiously, calling Trudeau’s allegations “absurd”, temporarily suspending visa services for Canadians and threatening to revoke immunity for Ottawa’s diplomats, leading to their withdrawal.

New Delhi accuses western democracies of harbouring Sikh extremist groups which are complicit in a long and violent campaign for an independent state of “Khalistan”.

India designated Pannun, general counsel of the separatist group Sikhs for Justice, a terrorist in 2020.

Indian authorities this month filed a new case against Pannun after he warned that flying on Air India could be “life-threatening”. Pannun denied that his statement was meant as a violent threat.

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