• Thursday, July 25, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Pannun murder plot: Indian national pleads not guilty in US court

Pannun, wanted in India on terror charges and holding dual citizenship of the US and Canada, has been designated as a terrorist by India’s home ministry.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun (Picture: Twitter/@SortedEagle)

By: Vivek Mishra

AN Indian man suspected by the US of involvement in a failed plot, allegedly backed by the Indian government, to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil pleaded not guilty on Monday (17) to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in federal court in Manhattan.

Nikhil Gupta is accused by US federal prosecutors of conspiring with an Indian government official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US resident advocating for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.

Pannun, wanted in India on terror charges and holding dual citizenship of the US and Canada, has been designated as a terrorist by India’s home ministry under anti-terror law.

Last June, Gupta traveled from India to Prague, where he was arrested by Czech authorities. A Czech court rejected his petition to avoid extradition to the US, and he was sent to the US on Friday, according to Czech justice minister Pavel Blazek.

At a hearing on Monday in Manhattan, US magistrate judge James Cott ordered Gupta, 52, to be detained until the next conference in his case on June 28. Gupta is currently held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, as per US Bureau of Prisons records.

Jeffrey Chabrowe, Gupta’s defense lawyer, emphasized the importance of not rushing to conclusions. “This is a complex matter for both of our countries,” Chabrowe told reporters after the hearing. “Background and details will develop that may cast government allegations into an entirely new light.”

The discovery of alleged assassination plots against Sikh separatists in the US and Canada has strained relations with India, viewed by Western nations as a counter to China’s rising influence. New Delhi denies involvement in such plots.

Canada announced in September that its intelligence agencies were investigating allegations that link India’s government to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023 in British Columbia.

In November, US authorities stated that an Indian government official had directed the plot to kill Pannun, who holds both US and Canadian citizenship. Gupta is accused of participating in this plot.

After the hearing, Pannun referred to Gupta as a “foot soldier” and expressed confidence that the US justice system would also hold accountable the Indian officials who allegedly hired him.

India’s government has distanced itself from the plot against Pannun, stating it opposes such actions. It has pledged to investigate the security concerns raised by Washington.

New Delhi has long viewed Sikh separatist groups outside India as security threats, as these groups continue to support the Khalistan movement, which demands an independent Sikh state carved out of India.

Last month, Washington indicated it was satisfied with India’s efforts to ensure accountability in the alleged plots, but noted that further steps were needed.

(Reuters)

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