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DOJ accuses Indian national of recruiting undercover DEA agent in effort to assassinate American on US soil
Indian protesters holding an image of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. Photo by ARUN SANKAR/AFP via Getty Images

DOJ accuses Indian national of recruiting undercover DEA agent in effort to assassinate American on US soil

The Department of Justice has charged an Indian agent for allegedly working with his government to execute a political assassination on American soil.

The murder plot might have proven successful like the corresponding assassination of a Canadian citizen in June; however, Nikhil Gupta, a 52-year-old Indian national, allegedly made the error of mistaking an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent for a willing accomplice.

FBI Assistant Director in Charge James Smith said in a statement, "Murder for hire is a crime out of a movie, but the plot in this case was all too real." In this case, the movie has the makings of a Bollywood thriller.

The murder plot

An Indian government official who described himself as a "Senior Field Officer" with responsibilities in "Intelligence," orchestrated a nefarious plot to whack an American attorney of Indian origin over his Sikh separatist views and criticism of the Modi regime, according to the indictment.

Senior Biden officials have identified the intended victim as dual U.S.-Canadian citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, reported the Washington Post.

"[Pannun] has publicly called for some or all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, and the Indian government has banned the Victim and his separatist organization from India," said the indictment.

Pannun was an associate of Hardeeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian citizen who was gunned down on June 18 outside a Sikh temple in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Nijjar was similarly an advocate of Sikh independence and a critic of the anti-Christian Modi regime, which considers both men terrorists.

The Indian government official running the show allegedly recruited Gupta in May to carry out the assassination. Gupta in turn attempted to delegate the dirty deed to an individual whom he figured for a criminal associate, but who was actually a confidential source working for the DEA.

The confidential source played along, introducing Gupta in turn to an undercover DEA officer feigning to be a hitman.

Following some negotiation, the Indian government official reportedly agreed the Sikh attorney's death was worth $100,000 and successfully arranged with Gupta to deliver $15,000 in cash to the purported hitman on June 9.

The Indian official provided Gupta with the victim's home address, his phone number, and details about his daily habits. Gupta allegedly kept his boss in the loop about the progress of the murder plot, sending the Indian official surveillance photographs of the victim.

Gupta allegedly indicated he wanted the faux hitman to carry out the murder as soon as possible, just not around the time of President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's talks in late June.

While the high-level talks did not commence in earnest until June 21, Hijjar's assassination in Canada on June 18 prompted Gupta to move up the time table, noting there was "now no need to wait," according to the indictment.

Hours after Nijjar's murder, Gupta's boss allegedly sent Gupta a video clip of the victim's slumped over body.

Gupta allegedly told the undercover DEA agent that Nijjar had "also [been] the target" and "we have so many targets."

One of the intended victims appears to have been Bobby Singh, an activist based in Sacramento, California.

Czech authorities arrested Gupta on June 30. He was subsequently extradited to the U.S. and charged with murder for hire as well as with conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Both charges collectively carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Canadian vindication, American response

Pannun said of the murder plot, "First by assassinating Nijjar in Canada and then attempting to assassinate me on US soil, India under [prime minister Narendra Modi] has extended to the foreign soils its policy of violently crushing the Sikhs movement for right to self-determination," reported the Guardian.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested in September that there were "credible allegations" that New Delhi was behind Nijjar's assassination. The Modi regime did not take the suggestion kindly, calling the claim "absurd," expelling Canadian diplomats and suspending visas between the two countries, reported the National Post.

Amidst the worsening fallout, Canada — home to the largest Sikh population outside of India — suspended a senior Indian diplomat.

Trudeau said this week that the "news coming out of the United States further underscores what we've been talking about from the very beginning, which is that India needs to take this seriously."

"The Indian government needs to work with us to ensure that we're getting to the bottom of this," added Trudeau. "This is not something that anyone can take lightly."

Canada's public safety minister, Dominic LeBlanc, said, "We won't comment on individual cases, obviously, except to say that there is a very, very high level of collaboration between the RCMP, the FBI, between CSIS other intelligence partners in the United States."

The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration learned of the assassination plot in late July. The following month, national security adviser Jake Sullivan raised the matter with his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, underscoring the need for India to investigate the plot and hold those responsible accountable.

DEA Administrator Anne Milgram said in a statement, "When a foreign government employee allegedly committed the brazen act of recruiting an international narcotics trafficker to murder a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, DEA was there to stop the plot."

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen said, "The Department of Justice will be relentless in using the full reach of our authorities to pursue accountability for lethal plotting emanating from overseas."

U.S Attorney Damian Williams of the Southern District of New York 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."

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