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India murder plot case could damage relations – US lawmakers

Congress members say New Delhi’s links to an assassination attempt against a New York-based Khalistan activist should be investigated

The potential involvement of Indian government officials in a foiled assassination plot to kill prominent Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun on US soil could “significantly damage” New Delhi’s relations with Washington, five Indian-origin lawmakers warned on Friday.

“It is critical that India fully investigate, hold those responsible, including Indian government officials, accountable, and provide assurances that this will not happen again,” US Congress members Ami Bera, Pramila Jayapal, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamoorthi, and Shri Thanedar said in a joint statement on Friday.

“We believe the US-India partnership has made meaningful impact on the lives of both of our people, but we are concerned that the actions outlined in the indictment could, if not appropriately addressed, cause significant damage to this very consequential partnership,” the statement reads.

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Their comments came after they reportedly received a classified briefing from the White House on the Indian-linked indictment. At the same time, they welcomed New Delhi’s announcement of a committee to investigate the murder plot after details of the case were made public by the US Justice Department.

In the indictment dated November 29, US prosecutors claimed that an unnamed Indian government official, referred to only as ‘CC-1’, was to have “directed the assassination plot” from India, using an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, who is said to have tried to recruit a hitman. The US authorities said Gupta agreed to pay an assassin $100,000 to kill the New York-based Sikh separatist leader.

The target, while not mentioned directly in the indictment, is Sikh secessionist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who is known for his inflammatory rhetoric against India and advocacy for the creation of Khalistan, a nation-state for the minority Sikh community in India. Pannun is the founder of the ‘Sikhs for Justice’ organization, which is banned in India, while he himself is designated as a ‘terrorist’ by New Delhi.

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Gupta, who is facing murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges, was apprehended by the authorities in the Czech Republic and is awaiting trial in Prague. His family has asked India’s Supreme Court to secure his release and help him get a fair trial. Gupta’s lawyer, Rohini Musa, argues that he is being detained illegally.

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