International assassination plot against Sikh separatist in New York foiled: Indictment
A task force led by the DEA discovered the alleged plot.
An Indian national was charged Wednesday in New York with plotting to kill a Sikh separatist, a scheme uncovered earlier this year by a consortium of law enforcement officers working an undercover drug case.
Nikhil Gupta is accused of paying a hit man to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a leader of Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based group that is pushing for an independent Sikh state within India.
A task force led by the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered the alleged plot after a different Sikh separatist was killed in Canada, sources familiar with the case told ABC News. The Canadian killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accuse New Delhi in what became an international incident.
"As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a U.S. citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said. "We will not tolerate efforts to assassinate U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and stand ready to investigate, thwart, and prosecute anyone who seeks to harm and silence Americans here or abroad."
Gupta was directed by an unnamed "senior field officer in the Indian government with intelligence experience to orchestrate the assassination of the victim," according to the indictment.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told ABC News: "We are providing information to the government of India to aid in their internal investigation. We will continue to expect accountability from the government of India based on the results of their investigations."
The purported hitman Gupta hired was actually a confidential source working for U.S. law enforcement, the indictment said. In May, Gupta agreed to pay $100,000.
According to prosecutors, Gupta wanted the murder carried out "as soon as possible" but asked the hitman to avoid times of "anticipated engagements scheduled to occur in the ensuing weeks between high-level U.S. and Indian government officials."
He was arrested in the Czech Republic and has not yet been extradited to the United States, according to sources familiar with the case. Gupta is charged with murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy. It's unclear if he's obtained a lawyer.
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