India’s foreign ministry on Wednesday acknowledged accusations that a “senior filed officer” in its government orchestrated a foiled assassination attempt on U.S. soil, saying it takes the allegations “seriously” and has set up a “high-level inquiry committee” to investigate.
That announcement comes amid reportedly strained relations between New Delhi and the White House, which has sent some of its top intelligence officials to India to demand answers for the alleged murder-for-hire plot.
A trove of details about the alleged assassination attempt were revealed by U.S. prosecutors on Wednesday in a superseding indictment for a man involved in the plot, which sought to kill a Sikh separatist in New York City.
The senior Indian official who allegedly orchestrated the assassination attempt has not been named, but prosecutors identified one of his “associates,” Indian national Nikhil Guptam, as the man who was dispatched to hire a hitman. He was arrested this summer in the Czech Republic and is awaiting extradition.
U.S. officials reportedly said the attack’s target was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a U.S. citizen and New York lawyer who works for the “Sikhs for Justice,” a pro-separatist group.
Prosecutors said the murder-for-hire plot was ultimately foiled because Gupta tried to hire an undercover U.S. law enforcement officer to carry out the assassination for $100,000.
A slew of intriguing details were alleged in the indictment, seemingly revealing that the Indian government has tried to silence Sikh activists, who’ve pushed for the creation of an independent Sikh state called Khalistan in what’s currently a portion of northern India, on a global scale.
The indictment said the unidentified government official was the same person who ordered the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a prominent Sikh activist who was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Canada in June.
That slaying angered Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, who revealed publicly that there were “credible allegations” that agents within the Indian government had carried out Nijjar’s assassination.
India’s foreign ministry denied that bombshell accusation, saying in a statement that Trudeau’s claim was “absurd” and politically motivated, adding that that Canada had long welcomed “Khalistani terrorists and extremists” who threaten India’s security.
The killing led to a strained relationship between Canada and India relations—tensions that appears to be brewing in Washington now, too, The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed government sources.
Sources told the Post that President Joe Biden dispatched CIA Director William J. Burns to India in August to demand answers for the failed assassination on U.S. soil. Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was reportedly flown to India in October to do the same.
The indictment alleged that Gupta communicated to the purported hitman that they could carry out the New York City assassination on June 19, one day after Nijjar was killed. Gupta allegedly said that both men were on the same list of Sikh targets.
The Daily Beast