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How a U.S. indictment connects to an alleged India-linked murder plot on Canadian soil

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Associated Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, left, walks past Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as they take part in a wreath-laying ceremony at Raj Ghat, Mahatma Gandhi's cremation site, during the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sunday, Sept. 10, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Associated Press)

Photo: La Presse canadienne / Sean Kilpatrick

RCI

Indictment suggests there were plans to carry out 3 'jobs' on Canadian soil

A recently unsealed U.S. criminal indictment alleging a plot connected to the Indian government to carry out multiple assassinations in North America has rattled Canadian and American relations with the world's most populous democracy.

The court document, made public Wednesday (new window), lays out U.S. prosecutors' case against Indian national Nikhil Gupta. U.S. authorities allege Gupta was planning to kill an American Sikh political activist before he was arrested.

The indictment landed months after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shocked the House of Commons by accusing India of being behind the killing of Sikh activist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.

While the indictment largely focuses on the thwarted U.S. plot, the allegations suggest a larger scheme to kill on Canadian soil.

U.S. says unidentified agent of India recruited Gupta

According to U.S. prosecutors, Gupta was recruited by and received direction from an unidentified Indian government employee the indictment refers to as CC-1.

The indictment says CC-1 worked for an Indian government agency and describes Gupta as a drug and weapons trafficker.

The U.S. case centres on Gupta's communications with CC-1 and two other people. One was a person Gupta thought was a hit man but was actually an undercover police officer, the indictment says. Gupta also spoke with a person he allegedly thought was a criminal associate who was actually a confidential source working with U.S. law enforcement, the indictment adds.

Gupta and the alleged Indian agent were in contact before and after Hardeep Singh Nijjar's death, the indictment says. Nijjar was gunned down by masked shooters in front of a Sikh temple in British Columbia on June 18.

According to the indictment, Gupta told the two law enforcement plants that the masterminds of the assassination plot in India had extensive resources.

On June 9, days before Nijjar's murder, Gupta allegedly mentioned a big target in Canada.

We will be needing one good team in Canada, he told the confidential police informant, says the indictment.

Government agent allegedly sent video of Nijjar's body

Hours after Nijjar's murder, CC-1 sent Gupta a video clip showing Nijjar's bloody corpse slumped in his vehicle, according to the indictment.

The document alleges Gupta replied that he wished he had carried out the killing personally. It alleges Gupta forwarded the video clip to the undercover police officer and the confidential informant.

WATCH | U.S. indictment reveals alleged murder-for-hire plot linked to India

U.S. indictment reveals alleged murder-for-hire plot linked to India

Months after the high-profile killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar triggered a diplomatic rift between Canada and India, a newly unsealed U.S. indictment alleges American authorities managed to stop a plot to assassinate multiple Sikh nationalists in North America — including three in Canada.

The indictment alleges that, while on a call with the confidential informant, Gupta said Nijjar was also the target but he was #4, #3 on the list and not to worry [because] we have so many targets ...

The indictment suggests Nijjar's death accelerated the plot to kill Gupta's assigned target. His target is widely believed to have been Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, although the individual is referred to only as the victim in the indictment.

Gupta directed the informant, whom he believed was a criminal associate, to find the opportunity to kill the victim and to do it quickly, says the indictment.

Indictment mentions 3 'jobs' in Canada

The indictment says Gupta told the informant on a call that we have to finish four jobs before June 29 — the assassination of the primary target and then three in Canada afterward.

Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic on June 30.

Last week, The Financial Times reported that U.S. officials had filed a criminal indictment and had thwarted a plot against Pannun, a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada.

Pannun is not named in the indictment, but the facts of the case match the British outlet's reporting. Pannun, a vocal critic of India's government, has also identified himself as the target

According to the indictment, Gupta's target and Nijjar were associates.

Gupta warned the informant that their target would be more cautious after Nijjar's death, the document says.

He will be more cautious, because in Canada, his colleague is down. His colleague is down, Gupta said, according to the indictment. I sent you the video. So he will be more cautious, so we should not give them the chance, any chance.

U.S., Canadian police likely talking, says ex-CSIS chief

No charges have been laid in Canada in relation to Nijjar's killing.

Richard Fadden, former director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), said the U.S. indictment gives weight to Trudeau's September allegations.

I suspect that the police in Canada and the United States have been talking about these things under the radar for some time, he told CBC's The Current  (new window)Thursday morning.

It may be difficult to bring a case before the Canadian courts in the absence of some of the sorts of information that seems to be in the U.S. indictment.

Fadden said it's impossible to say whether Canadian law enforcement did enough to protect Nijjar — who was warned by authorities about the threat to his life, according to reports.

But I think what was lacking is what is called actionable intelligence. There was clearly a risk, there [were] clearly threats. But unless you have something that at least narrows the time and location of a possible threat, it's very difficult to do something, he said.

I'd like to think that the police and CSIS and others are now going back over what they knew and asking themselves whether they could have done something. But you can't have 24/7 protection for an individual on an ongoing basis that last forever.

Asked about the case Wednesday, federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said he trusts the criminal process. He added Canadian and American officials have been co-operating closely on the file.

I have every confidence … that the RCMP are doing the rigorous, important work that we expect of them, he told reporters in Ottawa.

We're going to let them conclude their investigation.

Trudeau said the indictment backs up what Canada has been saying publicly.

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, Trudeau told reporters.

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

WATCH | India should take allegations 'seriously' after U.S. indictment, Trudeau says

India should take allegations 'seriously' after U.S. indictment, Trudeau says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the U.S. indictment accusing Nikhil Gupta of arranging a murder in New York City — and linking him to three such attempts in Canada — ought to convince India that it needs to work with Ottawa 'to get to the bottom' of the matter.

Arindam Bagchi, spokesperson for India's external affairs ministry, said the country has set up a high-level inquiry in response to the indictment.

As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a U.S. court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said, and let me reiterate, that this is also contrary to government policy, he said Thursday morning.

Bagchi took a tougher stance on Canada's allegations.

Insofar as Canada is concerned, we have said that they have consistently given space to anti-India extremists and violence. And that is at the heart of the issue, he said.

We have also seen interference by Canadian diplomats in our internal affairs. This is obviously unacceptable.

Catharine Tunney (new window) · CBC News ·

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