Indian man pleads not guilty to murder-for-hire plot against Sikh separatist in US

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An Indian man suspected by the US of involvement in an unsuccessful plot to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil pleaded not guilty on Monday to murder-for-hire conspiracy charges in a federal court in Manhattan.

Nikhil Gupta also was ordered detained during the hearing.

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Gupta has been accused by US federal prosecutors of plotting with an Indian government official to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US resident who advocated for a sovereign Sikh state in northern India.

Last June, Gupta traveled to Prague from India and was arrested by Czech authorities. A Czech court last month rejected his petition to avoid being sent to the US. He was extradited to the US on Friday, Czech Justice Minister Pavel Blazek said.

Gupta, 52, was being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, US Bureau of Prisons records showed.

The discovery of alleged assassination plots against Sikh separatists in the US and Canada has tested relations with India, seen by Western nations as a counter to China’s rising global influence. India’s government denies involvement in such plots.

Canada said in September its intelligence agencies were pursuing allegations linking India’s government to the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June 2023 in the Canadian province of British Columbia.

In November, US authorities said an Indian government official had directed the plot in the attempted murder of Pannun, who is a US and Canadian citizen. Gupta is accused of involvement in that plot.

Pannun told Reuters on Sunday that while the extradition was a welcome step, “Nikhil Gupta is just a foot soldier.” He alleged that those who hired Gupta were senior members of the Indian government who act on the direction of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India’s government has dissociated itself from the plot against Pannun, saying it was against government policy. It has said it would formally investigate security concerns raised by Washington.

New Delhi has long complained about Sikh separatist groups outside India, viewing them as security threats. The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan, or the demand for an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.

Last month, Washington said it was satisfied so far with India’s moves to ensure accountability in the alleged plots, but added that many steps still needed to be taken.

Read more:

US charges Indian citizen with conspiracy to assassinate Sikh advocate

Sikh separatist leader will push for independent state despite assassination plot

PM Modi willing to ‘look into’ US claim of assassination plot against Sikh separatist

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