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Who Is Khalistani Activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Why Was He Target Of Purported 'Attempted Assassination'?

The US investigators have alleged that an Indian government employee helmed a plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in the United States through a drugs and weapons smuggler. While the purported target has not been named, he has been reported to be Gurpatwant Singh Pannun

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Gurpatwant Singh Pannun
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The United States has charged an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, with conspiring to kill a Sikh separatist on American soil. The US investigators have alleged he was working with an Indian government employee in the plot.

The Ministry Of External Affairs on Thursday described it as a "matter of concern" and asserted that a high-level probe committee will investigate all aspects of the case.

"As regards the case against an individual that has been filed in a US court, allegedly linking him to an Indian official, this is a matter of concern. We have said that this is also contrary to government policy," said MEA Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi during a press conference on Thursday.

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The alleged conspiracy to assassinate the "individual terrorist" was foiled by the United States government and a warning was conveyed to India, with the US expressing its concerns at "senior-most levels".

While the formal indictment unsealed this week by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) does not name the target of the alleged plot, it has been reported that the purported target was Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, founder of the banned outfit Sikhs For Justice (SFJ). Pannun, whom the Indian government has designated as a terrorist, has been a subject of continuous scrutiny by Indian agencies and faces multiple ongoing cases. The most recent case to be registered against him by India's anti-terror agency was only last week for a video he uploaded warning Sikhs not to fly on Air India saying it would be "life threatening". It was an apparent reference to an earlier bombing of an Air India flight that killed 329 people in 1985, which was attributed to Khalistani terrorists.

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Who is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun?

Although a lawyer by profession, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun is infamous for spearheading the Khalistan movement. He is the founder of a US-based pro-Khalistan organisation Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) and currently holds the position of legal advisor and spokesperson of SFJ. The group has recently been in news for increasing activities and gaining publicity in Canada which has a sizable Sikh and Punjabi population.

Originally from Khankot village on the outskirts of Amritsar, the New York-based lawyer currently holds a dual citizenship of US and Canada.

The Khalistani extremist in his mid- to late-40s is one of three children of a former Punjab State Agricultural Marketing Board employee named Mahinder Singh. He is believed to have graduated from Panjab University with a law degree in the 1990s.

Pannun gained attention for organising referendums in countries with large Indian diasporas, including Canada, the UK, and Australia aiming to gauge support for the creation of a separate Sikh state independent of India.

In July 2020, he was declared a "designated terrorist" by the Union Home Ministry under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. The SFJ organisation was declared "unlawful" in 2019.

Pannu as 'designated terrorist'

In a video that surfaced on social media last Sunday, the Khalistani separatist said, "We are asking the Sikh people not to fly via Air India on November 19. There will be a global blockade. On November 19, don't travel by Air India or your life will be in danger."

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In another video posted on October 10, Pannun had threatened Prime Minister Narendra Modi by asking him to learn from Israel's War on Gaza and warned him of a Hamas-like attack. "People under illegal occupation from Punjab to Palestine will react. And violence begets violence."

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun has been under National Investigation Agency’s (NIA) radar since 2019 when it filed the first case against him alleging his involvement in promoting and orchestrating acts of terrorism, as well as instilling fear and terror in Punjab and various other regions of India through his threatening and intimidating methods.

The Union Home Ministry also condemned SFJ for "espousing secessionism and militant ideology in Punjab".

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In 2017 several hoardings of "Referendum 2020" posters and pro-Khalistan slogans on walls were found in several districts of Punjab and Pannun was believed to have been behind it.

Under his alleged influence, flags supporting Khalistan were also raised at the Deputy Commissioner's office in Faridkot, and slogans were written on the walls of the court. A case was registered in June 2022.

Earlier in May, Pannun had been accused of being the perpetrator behind the pro-Khalistani banners and graffiti that appeared on the Himachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly building in Dharamshala.

In another case, Pannun, along with his group, faced accusations of sending recorded phone messages that aimed to incite sedition. Many people received these automated calls, which targeted both the State and Central governments. Additionally, pre-recorded interactive voice messages were used to try to collect feedback from the targeted individuals.

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Pannun has claimed responsibility for most of the acts of terror in India.

Following Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s death earlier this year, Pannun warned Indian-Hindus living in Canada to leave the country.

"Indo-Canadian Hindus, you have repudiated your allegiance to Canada and the Canadian constitution. Your destination is India. Leave Canada, and go to India. Pro-Khalistan Sikhs have always been loyal to Canada. They have always sided with Canada and uphold the laws and constitution," Pannun was heard saying in a video which went viral on social media.

Interpol refuses action

Despite of multiple cases registered in his name, no action has been taken against him yet owing to his foreign citizenship.

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India had approached The International Criminal Police Organisation or Interpol seeking a Red Notice against Pannun, for the second time in October this year but the plea was rejected.

The Central Bureau of Investigation, which is the national central bureau of India to liaison with the Interpol, had sent the request of National Investigation Agency seeking Red Notice against Pannun but it was returned with further queries, PTI reported.

While Interpol acknowledged Pannun was a "high-profile Sikh separatist" his activities had a "clear political dimension" due to which he cannot be subject of a Red Corner Notice as per Interpol’s Constitution.

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