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Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Ben Cardin (D-Md.) on Wednesday said the news of an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York City is “disturbing” and underscores a global rise in transnational repression.
“We are witnessing an alarming rise in transnational repression globally, where governments are dispatching assassins and kidnappers or using international criminal networks to abduct, harass, intimidate, and harm dissidents, journalists, and other individuals – far beyond their borders,” Cardin said in a statement.
“The disturbing news of a foiled assassination plot against a U.S. citizen involving Indian government officials further underscores the importance of shedding light on efforts by governments to silence dissenters abroad,” he continued.
Cardin’s remarks were released just hours after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national, is facing murder-for-hire charges for allegedly conspiring to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York City earlier this year. Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta last June, authorities said.
Cardin said he plans to chair a Foreign Relations Committee hearing to evaluate the extent of “global transnational repression” and how the U.S. can counter such threats.
Prosecutors did not identify the Sikh leader, but said they are an American citizen. The Washington Post and the Financial Times identified the victim as Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The Hill reached out to Pannun for comment.
Gupta was accused of working with an Indian government employee who prosecutors allege led the assassination plot from India. The employee, referred to as CC-1 by prosecutors, described himself as “Senior Field Officer” with duties related to “security management,” and “intelligence.”
Prosecutors claimed Gupta contacted a person believed to be a criminal associate for help with hiring a hitman. The person was actually a confidential source working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The source introduced Gupta to a hitman, also a DEA undercover officer, and Gupta allegedly helped facilitate a $15,000 advance payment for the assassination.
Gupta allegedly told the undercover officer to carry out the murder as soon as possible, while noting the murder should not take place near the time of anticipated engagements between high-level U.S. and Indian government officials, per the affidavit.
Without identifying the Sikh separatist leader, prosecutors said the victim is a “vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a U.S.-based organization” pushing for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India with a large population of Sikhs.
The news of the alleged murder-for-hire plot comes days after the U.S. raised concerns with India about reports of an assassination plot against an American Canadian Sikh separatist leader. A Financial Times report last week detailed allegations that the U.S. stopped a plot to kill Pannun on American soil.
Pannun accused India of using terrorism to stop his push for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan, within India.
“The foiled attempt on my life on American soil by the Indian agents is transnational terrorism which is a threat to the US sovereignty, freedom of speech and democracy, so I will let the U.S. government respond to this threat,” he said in an email shared with The Hill earlier this month.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Wednesday that Canada, “from the month of August onwards,” has worked with the U.S. and other global partners in dealing with what he called “the very serious allegations.”
Tensions between Canada and India flared up in September after Trudeau claimed “credible allegations” may tie India to the assassination of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Sarakshi Rai contributed.