US federal prosecutors have charged an Indian national in an alleged murder-for-hire plot to try to assassinate a Sikh activist in New York City, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
Nikhil Gupta, 52, paid an undercover officer he believed to be a hitman $100,000 to target the Sikh activist, a US citizen who is unnamed in the indictment but described as an attorney and vocal critic of the Indian government.
The target of the planned attack in New York was identified by American officials as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is general counsel for the New York-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice, according to The New York Times.
Gupta has been charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Gupta was arrested in June of this year in the Czech Republic and held pursuant to a bilateral extradition treaty, authorities said.
Gupta worked with an Indian government official, who described himself as “senior field officer” with intelligence responsibilities and “directed the assassination plot from India,” alleged authorities.
CNN claimed that the US officials familiar with the case told CNN the victim is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who runs a New York-based outfit called “Sikhs for Justice,” which has held referendums for a separate Khalistan state. The organization is considered unlawful in India, where its website is not accessible.
Pannun said in a statement that the attempt on his life represents a “threat to freedom of speech and democracy,” as the case along with the recent assassination of another Sikh separatist on Canada complicates relations between the US and India.
“The attempt on my life on American Soil is the blatant case of India’s transnational terrorism which has become a challenge to America’s sovereignty and threat to freedom of speech and democracy,” Pannun said. “If death is the cost for running the Khalistan Referendum, I am willing to pay that price.”