U.S. authorities thwarted a plot to kill a Sikh separatist in the United States and issued a warning to India over concerns the government in New Delhi was involved, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources.
There was no immediate response from India’s foreign ministry to requests for comment on the report. A spokesperson for the U.S. embassy said that it does not comment on discussions with its partners on diplomatic, law enforcement or intelligence issues.
The Financial Times reported that the sources did not say if the protest to India resulted in the plot being abandoned by the plotters or if it was foiled by the FBI.
The paper identified Gurpatwant Singh Pannun as the target of the foiled plot, against whom India’s anti-terror agency filed a case on Monday stating that he warned flag carrier Air India passengers in video messages shared on social media this month that their lives were in danger.
The protest to New Delhi was registered after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was welcomed on a state visit by President Joe Biden in June, the report said.
The report comes two months after Canada said there were “credible” allegations linking Indian agents to the June murder of a Sikh separatist leader, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in a Vancouver suburb.
India has rejected Canada’s accusations.
Apart from the diplomatic warning to India, U.S. federal prosecutors have also filed a sealed indictment against at least one suspect in a New York district court, the FT report said.
Pannun, like Nijjar, is a proponent of a decades-long but now fringe demand to carve out an independent Sikh homeland from India called Khalistan, a plan the Indian government sees as a security threat due to a violent insurgency in the 1970s and 1980s.
He is the general counsel of Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which India labelled an “unlawful association” in 2019, citing its involvement in extremist activities. Pannun was listed as an “individual terrorist” by India in 2020.
India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) has registered a case against him under charges related to terrorism and conspiracy, among others. It stated that he also threatened in his video messages to not let Air India operate anywhere in the world.
Pannun on Tuesday told Reuters that his message was to “boycott Air India not bomb.” The NIA case comes against the historical backdrop of a bombing in 1985 of an Air India aircraft flying from Canada to India that killed all 329 people aboard, for which Sikh militants were blamed.
The FT report said Pannun had declined to say whether U.S. authorities had warned him about the plot.
After the FT report Pannun told Reuters that he will let the U.S. government respond “to the issue of threats to my life at the American soil from the Indian operatives.”
“Just like Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s assassination by the Indian agents on Canadian soil was a challenge to Canada’s sovereignty, the threat to American citizen on American soil is a Challenge to America’s sovereign,” he said.
Canada worked very closely with the United States on intelligence that Indian agents had been potentially involved in Nijjar’s murder, a senior Canadian government source told Reuters in September.
The Financial Times report mentioned that the United States shared details of the thwarted plot with a wider group of allies after Canada’s public accusation.