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Indian man extradited to US in connection with alleged plot to assassinate Sikh separatist

Written by on June 17, 2024

(NEW YORK) — An Indian national has been extradited to the United States to face charges he directed a plot to kill a critic of the Indian government in New York City.

Nikhil Gupta is accused of paying a hit man to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a leader of Sikhs for Justice, who has been advocating for the creation of a sovereign Sikh state.

Gupta, 52, was arrested in the Czech Republic late last year. He faces charges of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy. He appeared Monday in Manhattan federal court and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

“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 in November at the time of Gupta’s arrest. “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.”

A task force led by the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered the alleged plot to kill Pannun after a different Sikh separatist was killed in Canada, sources familiar with the case told ABC News. The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to accuse New Delhi in what became an international incident.

Nijjar was killed on June 18 near a Sikh cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, according to The Associated Press.

Three Canadians were arrested last month, according to Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for the murder of Nijjar: Karan Brar, 22, of Edmonton; Kamalpreet Singh, 22, of Edmonton; and Karanpreet Singh, 28, of Edmonton.

Like Nijjar, Pannum advocates for the creation of Khalistan, an independent Sikh homeland in India’s Punjab region.

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 filed in November.

The purported hitman Gupta hired was actually a confidential source working for U.S. law enforcement, the indictment said. In May 2023, Gupta agreed to pay $100,000 for the hit job, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office sharing photos of wads of cash being exchanged by Gupta as a down payment on the assassination.

Gupta had fought extradition, but the Czech Constitutional Court cleared the way for him to be brought to the U.S. in a ruling late last month, according to the BBC.

ABC News’ Aleem Agha contributed to this report.

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