US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings

US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings
Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is pictured in his office in New York. United States, on November 29, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 01 December 2023
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US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings

US prosecutors say plots to assassinate Sikh leaders were part of a campaign of planned killings
  • Hardeep Singh Nijjar, Sikh activist exiled from India, was shot and killed outside cultural center in British Columbia in June
  • US prosecutors  said the goal was to kill at least four people in the two countries by June 29, and then more after that

NEW YORK: A foiled plot to assassinate a prominent Sikh separatist leader in New York, just days after another activist’s killing, was meant to precede a string of other politically motivated murders in the United States and Canada, according to US prosecutors.
In electronic communications and audio and video calls secretly recorded or obtained by US law enforcement, organizers of the plot talked last spring about plans to kill someone in California and at least three other people in Canada, in addition to the victim in New York, according to an indictment unsealed Wednesday.
The goal was to kill at least four people in the two countries by June 29, and then more after that, prosecutors contend.
After Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh activist who had been exiled from India, was shot and killed outside a cultural center in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18, one of the men charged with orchestrating the planned assassinations told a person he had hired as a hitman that he should act urgently to kill another activist, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
“We have so many targets,” Nikhil Gupta said in a recorded audio call, according to the indictment. “We have so many targets. But the good news is this, the good news is this: Now no need to wait.”
He urged the hitman to act quickly because Pannun, a US citizen living in New York, would likely be more cautious after Nijjar’s slaying.
“We got the go-ahead to go anytime, even today, tomorrow — as early as possible,” he told a go-between as he instructed the hitman to kill Pannun even if there were other people with him. “Put everyone down,” he said, according to the indictment.
The attack plans were foiled, prosecutors said, because the hitman was actually an undercover US agent.
The US attorney in Manhattan announced charges Wednesday against Gupta, and said in court papers that the plot to kill Pannun was directed by an official in the Indian government. That government official was not charged in the indictment or identified by name, but the court filing described him as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in security management and intelligence.
Indian officials have denied any complicity in Nijjar’s slaying. External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said Wednesday that the Indian government had set up a high-level inquiry after US authorities raised concerns about the plot to kill Pannun.
Court filings revealed that even before Nijjar’s killing in Canada, US law enforcement officials had become aware of a plot against activists who were advocating for the secession from India of the northern Punjab state, where Sikhs are a majority.
US officials said they began investigating when Gupta, in his search for a hitman, contacted a narcotics trafficker who turned out to be a Drug Enforcement Administration informant.
Over the ensuing weeks, the pair communicated by phone, video and text messages, eventually looping in their hired assassin — the undercover agent.
The Indian government official told Gupta that he had a target in New York and a target in California, the indictment said. They ultimately settled on a $100,000 price and by June 3, Gupta was urging his criminal contact in America to “finish him brother, finish him, don’t take too much time .... push these guys, push these guys ... finish the job.”
During a June 9 call, Gupta told the narcotics trafficker that the murder of Pannun would change the hitman’s life because “we will give more bigger job more, more job every month, every month 2-3 job,” according to the indictment.
It was unclear from the indictment whether US authorities had learned anything about the specific plan to kill Nijjar before his ambush on June 18.
The indictment portrayed Gupta as boasting that he and his associates in India were behind both the Canadian and New York assassination plots. He allegedly told the Drug Enforcement Administration informant on June 12 that there was a “big target” in Canada and on June 16 told him: “We are doing their job, brother. We are doing their New York (and) Canada (job),” referring to individuals directing the plots from India.
After Nijjar was killed, Gupta told the informant that Nijjar was the target he had mentioned as the potential Canadian “job” and added: “We didn’t give to (the undercover agent) this job, so some other guy did this job ... in Canada.”
On June 30, Gupta was arrested in the Czech Republic at the request of the United States after arriving there on a trip from India. Federal authorities have not said when he might be brought to the United States to face murder-for-hire and conspiracy charges. It was unclear who would provide legal representation if he arrives in the US
Pannun told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday that he will continue his work.
“They will kill me. But I don’t fear the death,” he said.
He mocked India’s claim that it is conducting its own investigation into the assassination plots.
“The only thing, I think, (the) Indian government is going to investigate (is) why their hitman could not kill one person. That’s what they will be investigating,” he said.
Pannun said he rejects the Indian government’s decision to label him a terrorist.
“We are the one who are fighting India’s violence with the words. We are the one who are fighting India’s bullets with the ballot,” he said. “They are giving money, hundreds of thousands, to kill me. Let the world decide who is terrorist and who is not a terrorist.”
Some international affairs experts told the AP that it was unlikely the incidents would seriously damage the relationship between the US and India.
”In most cases, if Washington accuses a foreign government of staging an assassination on its soil, US relations with that government would plunge into deep crisis,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia institute. “But the relationship with India is a special case. Trust and goodwill are baked into the relationship, thanks to rapidly expanding cooperation and increasingly convergent interests.”
Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the Rand Corp., said the Biden administration has demonstrated that it is prioritizing the need to leverage India as part of its strategy to counter Chinese power.
“I think publicizing the details of the thwarted plot will have very little, if any, impact on the deepening US-India strategic partnership,” he said.


Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February
Updated 10 sec ago
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Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February

Ukraine forces claim downing record number of Russian jets in February
  • Says 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February
  • Russian military bloggers and the British defense ministry had also mentioned downed A-50 planes

KYIV: Ukraine said Thursday it had destroyed a record number of Russian planes in February, at a time when ground forces are under increased pressure in the east.

AFP was unable to verify the claims and Russian authorities do not comment.
“Our sky defenders have achieved the greatest results in downing Russian jets since October 2022,” the Ukrainian defense ministry said.
It said 10 SU-34, two Su-35 fighter jets and an A-50 aircraft had been shot down in February.
The tally included three Su-34s downed overnight which were “launching guided missiles at our infantry positions in the east,” ground forces commander Oleksandr Pavliuk said.
Ukraine had said it had shot down another A-50 plane in January.
The claims are hard to verify, but Russian military bloggers had mentioned the destruction of the A-50 aircraft — although they blamed friendly fire.
Russian military bloggers, who have sources in the armed forces, often publish exclusive information, contrary to government sources and Russian state media outlets.
The British defense ministry on Tuesday also mentioned two A-50 downed, noting the incidents “forced Russian decision makers to consider safer operating areas.”
Two years into the invasion, Ukraine has said its priority was to “throw Russia from the skies.”
Ukraine is expecting the delivery of F-16 fighter jets supplied by its Western allies.

 

 


US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye
Updated 12 min 51 sec ago
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US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye

US Senate defeats bid to stop F-16 fighter jet sale to Turkiye
  • Republican Senator Rand Paul sought to block the sale, saying it would embolden Turkiye for its “misbehavior"
  • Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally

WASHINGTON: The US Senate on Thursday soundly defeated an effort to stop the $23 billion sale of F-16 fighter jets and modernization kits to Turkiye, which President Joe Biden’s administration approved after Turkiye approved Sweden’s joining the NATO alliance.
As voting continued, the tally was 78 to 13 against a resolution of disapproval of the sale introduced by Republican Senator Rand Paul.
Before the vote, Paul criticized Turkiye’s government and said allowing the sale would embolden its “misbehavior.” Backers of the sale said it was important for Washington to keep its word to a NATO ally.
The Biden administration formally informed Congress on Jan. 26 of its intention to proceed with the sale of 40 Lockheed Martin F-16s and nearly 80 modernization kits to Turkiye, a day after Ankara fully completed ratification of the NATO membership of Sweden.
The sale had been held up for months over issues including Turkiye’s refusal to approve Sweden’s accession to the military alliance. Turkiye first asked to make the purchase in October 2021.
The US Arms Export Control Act gives Congress the right to stop a major weapons sale by passing a resolution of disapproval in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Although the law has been in effect for half a century, no such resolution has both passed Congress and survived a presidential veto.
Sweden and Finland applied to enter NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. While Finnish membership was sealed last year, Sweden’s bid had been held up by Turkiye and Hungary. All NATO members need to approve applications from countries seeking to join the alliance.


Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead
Updated 38 min 11 sec ago
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Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead

Fire in Bangladesh capital leaves at least 43 people dead
  • Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital

DHAKA: A fire at a six-story shopping mall in the Bangladeshi capital overnight killed at least 43 people and injured dozens of others, the health minister said Friday.
Health Minister Samanta Lal Sen said the fire broke out late Thursday in the building in Dhaka’s downtown area. Firefighters rescued survivors and pulled out bodies, and by early Friday, at least 43 people died and at least 22 others were being treated, he said.
Firefighters said the fire began in a popular restaurant on the first floor of the mall in a busy commercial district at the heart of the capital, and that many people were trapped by the fire.
The cause of the fire could not immediately be determined.
Sen said at least 33 people, including women and children, were declared dead at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital, while at least 10 others died after being taken to the Sheikh Hasina National Institute of Burn and Plastic Surgery.
More than a dozen firefighting units were deployed to douse the fire that broke out at the Green Cozy Cottage Shopping Mall, said Fire Service and Civil Defense Director General Brig. Gen. Md. Main Uddin.
At 75 people, including 42 who were unconscious, were rescued from the building, rescuers said.


At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
Updated 29 February 2024
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At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal

At least 26 dead in migrant shipwreck off Senegal
  • The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud
  • Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people

SAINT LOUIS, Senegal: At least 26 people seeking to reach Europe died after their loaded vessel sank off northern Senegal, the governor of the Saint-Louis region told AFP on Thursday.
Alioune Badara Samb said bodies had been found since Wednesday when the boat got into difficulty in a particularly dangerous part of the northern coast. He added that 21 people had been rescued.
The Saint-Louis estuary, where the Senegal River meets the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for strong currents and areas of thick mud.
Samb did not say how many people were missing from the vessel, which witnesses said could have been carrying more than 300 people.
A number of survivors managed to reach shore and dispersed among locals on the sea banks, making it difficult to say exactly how many people were involved, he said.
Mamady Dianfo, a survivor from Casamance in the south, told AFP more than 300 people were on board when the boat left Senegal a week ago.
Another survivor, Alpha Balde, estimated there were more than 200 passengers.
Dianfo said the vessel reached Morocco further north up the coast but the captain then said he was lost and could no longer continue the journey.
“We asked him to take us back to Senegal,” he said.
President Macky Sall on Thursday expressed his “deep sadness” following the “tragic capsizing” in a message on X, formerly Twitter.
He added that the relevant authorities had been deployed to offer support and assistance.
Senegal’s coast is an increasingly common departure point for Africans fleeing poverty and unemployment and heading to the Canary Islands, their port of entry into Europe.
European Union border agency Frontex says Senegal and Morocco are the most common countries of origin for migrants arriving on the Spanish archipelago in the Atlantic.
Of the more than 6,600 migrants who died or went missing trying to reach Spain last year, the vast majority were lost on the treacherous Atlantic route, according to Spanish NGO Caminando Fronteras.


Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
Updated 29 February 2024
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Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan

Austria appeals for a pause in fighting for Ramadan
  • FM Alexander Schallenberg said the Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty

BEIRUT: Austria’s foreign minister on Thursday urged Israel and Hezbollah against escalating the conflict along the volatile Israel-Lebanon border and expressed hope for a pause in the fighting in Gaza in time for the start of the holy month of Ramadan in March.

The Middle East has witnessed enough devastation and cruelty, said Alexander Schallenberg, speaking after meeting his Lebanese counterpart in Beirut.

Schallenberg said he came to Lebanon after visiting Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese villages along the southern border killed two people and wounded 14 others in the village of Kafra on Wednesday night, National News Agency reported.

Meanwhile, an Israeli drone strike hit a truck near the western Syrian town of Qusair close to the Lebanese border on Thursday, killing a Hezbollah member, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, and a Hezbollah official said.

European and American officials have tried to ease the tensions in visits to Beirut, to avoid a full-blown war between Israel and Hezbollah, which has said it would not discuss any deals before the war in Gaza ends.