Indian Nationals Charged in Murder of Canadian Sikh Activist

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(Bloomberg) -- Canadian police charged three Indian nationals on Friday with first-degree murder in the death of a prominent Sikh activist and said officers are actively investigating links to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

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The murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey, British Columbia, last year sparked a major diplomatic clash between India and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accused Modi’s administration of orchestrating the killing, prompting India to dismiss the allegation as “absurd” and expel dozens of Canadian diplomats.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police revealed Friday that three Indian citizens living in Edmonton had been arrested. Karan Brar and Kamalpreet Singh, both 22, and Karanpreet Singh, 28, have each been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

“There are separate and distinct investigations ongoing into these matters,” said David Teboul, assistant commissioner for the RCMP. “These efforts include investigating connections to the government of India.”

Police provided no details about the alleged link and did not give a clear indication of how fully India has been cooperating.

Teboul said he has been collaborating with his Indian counterparts on this and other investigations, but he described that work as “rather challenging and difficult for the last several years.”

The suspects — all temporary residents of Canada who have been in the country for three to five years — were taken into custody in Edmonton. They are accused of driving from Edmonton to Surrey — about a 700-mile distance, or 12 hours on the road — to commit the killing before returning to the Alberta city.

“We believe that there may be others involved and therefore there may be potential arrests or charges for others as well,” said Supt. Mandeep Mooker of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.

In September, Trudeau publicly described “credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India” and the killing, prompting a row between the two countries. The prime minister and other Canadian officials largely fell silent about the killing since then, saying they would wait for Canada’s police and justice system to investigate the matter.

Read More: Aftermath of an Assassination: Inside the India-Canada Crisis

A few months after Trudeau’s accusation, US court documents revealed American authorities had thwarted an alleged assassination attempt against a Sikh activist in New York, and were seeking to extradite the suspect from the Czech Republic.

Prosecutors in that case allege the hitman was recruited by an agent who was “employed at all times relevant to this Indictment by the Indian government, resides in India, and directed the assassination plot from India.”

Last week the Washington Post reported American officials believe the operation was approved by senior-level members of India’s intelligence agency, including its chief at the time.

Modi is in the middle of a reelection bid and his Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, is campaigning on his popularity, the strength of India’s economy and a pro-Hindu agenda that has resonated with the country’s majority.

Nijjar, 45, was an outspoken voice in a movement to carve out a separate state in India for Sikhs called Khalistan, which the Indian government deems a terrorist threat.

Danish Singh, president of the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said in a statement that he welcomes the arrests but believes they “raise disturbing questions about the nexus between the government of India and criminal gangs.”

(Adds quotes, context.)

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