At least six men and two vehicles were involved in the killing of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada earlier this year, according to a report based on video footage of the incident and witness accounts.
Nijjar was killed in June this year in Surrey in British Columbia province of Canada. No one has been arrested in the case so far.
Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed that there were "credible allegations of a potential link" between the Indian government and the death of Nijjar. India has forcefully rejected the allegation.
Nijjar was a designated terrorist associated with the Khalistan movement. He was the chief of Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), also a designated terrorist organisation.
Trudeau's allegation of a potential Indian role in Nijjar's killing and the subsequent exchange of diplomatic blows between India and Canada have plunged the bilateral relationship to a new low.
It is in these circumstances that The Washington Post has reported that the killing of Nijjar was captured in the CCTV camera of the gurudwara near which he was killed. The paper has further published accounts of people who claim to have seen three men running away from the crime scene.
What does the report say?
There were at least six men and two vehicles involved in a "coordinated" attack on Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, according to The Washington Post.
Attackers came in one vehicle and escaped from the area in another vehicle, says the report.
The Post says that it has reviewed the footage from the parking lot of the gurdwara where Nijjar was killed, which has also been shared with the investigators, and talked to those claiming to have seen the attackers running away from the scene for the purpose of the story.
The 90-second CCTV footage starts with Nijjar's grey pick-up truck coming out of the gurudwara he was heading, reports The Post. Then, a white sedan car appears on the scene and drives parallel to Nijjar's truck. It matches the speed of Nijjar's truck and then comes in front of Nijjar's truck to block its patch as they approached the exit of the parking lot. Then, two attackers are seen.
"Two men in hooded sweatshirts emerge from under a covered waiting area and move toward the truck. Each points a firearm at the driver’s seat. The sedan exits the parking lot and drives out of view. Then the two men run in the same direction," reports The Post.
The local Sikh leaders told The Post that 40-50 bullets were fired at Nijjar. The report says 34 hit the terrorist who died on the scene.
Then, The Post details the accounts of those who claim to have seen the purported attackers. Malkit Singh, a gurdwara volunteering who was playing football at a nearby ground, saw two hooded men running toward neighbouring Cougar Creek Park and chased them through the park. Singh did not recognise the men.
"The men ran out of the park to a cul-de-sac, he said, and got into a waiting silver car. Three other men were waiting inside the silver car, he said. He couldn’t see their faces," reports The Post.
Gurmeet Singh Toor, who the Post describes as one of the closest friends of terrorist Nijjar, also told The Post that he got into his pick-up truck and went on a pursuit of the attackers.
The gurdwara caretaker Charanjeet Singh told The Post that he saw men he didn’t recognise recording videos of the scene of the killing and, within minutes, news of Nijjar's killing surfaced on the social media.
Police arrived late, botched up probe: Report
The first police personnel took 12-20 minutes to arrive on the scene of the killing, according to the locals.
The locals consider the time taken as "shocking" as the area is heavily patrolled by the police.
Notably, Nijjar had been reportedly warned by the police and Canadian intelligence agency regarding threats to his life.
Then, the locals say there were "hours-long" discussions whether the local Surrey Police should take up the case or the federal Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), reports The Post.
The report further says it took almost two months for the police to release the details of a vehicle allegedly involved in the killing and to issue a call for witnesses to come forward to share any information they might have.
"On July 21, more than a month after the shooting, authorities asked the public for help identifying the two gunmen. On Aug. 16, they asked for help identifying a silver 2008 Toyota Camry and driver," reports The Post.
So far, none of the vehicle or persons allegedly involved in the crime have been identified and no arrests have been made.
The Post further reported that most of the persons along the route allegedly taken by the purported attackers have not been interviewed by the investigators.
"The Post visited 39 businesses and homes along the path the assailants took during their escape. The majority of those interviewed said they had not been contacted by the authorities," reported The Post.
Observers have said that the botched investigation by the Canadian police has further reduced the credibility of Trudeau's allegations.
Trudeau drives India-Canada relations to new low
The allegations made by Trudeau about a potential Indian hand in the killing of terrorist Nijjar has driven the India-Canada relations to a new low.
Speaking in the Parliament, Trudeau said, "Over the past number of weeks Canadian security agencies have been actively pursuing credible allegations of a potential link between agents of the government of India and the killing of a Canadian citizen, Hardeep Singh Nijjar...Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty."
Following the allegations in the House of Commons of the Parliament, the Canadian government expelled a senior Indian diplomat posted in Canada and outed him publicly as station chief of Indian intelligence agency Research and Intelligence Wing (RAW) in Canada. In a tit for tat response, India expelled a Canadian diplomat posted in India, who has since been identified as Olivier Sylvester, the station chief of Canadian intelligence in India.
Further, India suspended visa services for Canadian nationals and ordered the downsizing of the Canadian missions in India.
For years, the India-Canada relations had been strained over the safe haven that the Khalistan movement and terrorist leaders associated with various Khalistani organisations have found in Canada. The Khalistan movement seeks to carve out a separate Sikh nation out of India. For decades, the movement waged a bloody insurgency in India that finally ebbed in 1990s. While the insurgency ebbed in the 1990s, it has found strong pockets of influence abroad, particularly in Canada.
The tensions have increased since Trudeau became the Prime Minister of Canada as the Khalistani movement has found increased tolerance under him. He and his ministers and allies have attended Khalistani events and a Khalistani convicted for an attempted murder of an Indian minister was even invited to an event hosted by Trudeau in India during his disastrous visit in 2018.
The India-Canada tensions were also visible during the G20 Summit earlier this month when Trudeau was largely snubbed by India and had a tense meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In a particularly harsh readout, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said that Modi "conveyed our strong concerns about continuing anti-India activities of extremist elements in Canada".
"They are promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian diplomats, damaging diplomatic premises, and threatening the Indian community in Canada and their places of worship. The nexus of such forces with organized crime, drug syndicates and human trafficking should be a concern for Canada as well. It is essential for the two countries to cooperate in dealing with such threats," said the readout further.
Following Trudeau's allegations, India issued an advisory warning of "politically-condoned" anti-India activities in Canada. The phrase "politically-condoned" reflects the support that the Khalistan movement and anti-India elements in Canada receive from Trudeau, his party and allies, and his government.
While The Post report details the botched police investigation into Nijjar's killing, Canada maintains that it has human and technical evidence related to the incident. The technical evidence, as per Canada, involves intercepts of communication between Indian diplomat and officials.
Moreover, The New York Times also reported that the United States also provided intelligence to Canada in the matter after Nijjar was killed. The report, however, says that the US intelligence shared with Canada did not involve intercepts of communications. The purported intercepts that Canadians claim to have were, as per NYT, were collected by the Canadians themselves.
The India-US tussle has placed the United States in a difficult position. On the one hand is Canada, a treaty ally under various frameworks like NATO and Five Eyes and one of the oldest and closest partners. On the other hand is India, a partner critical to current and future US strategic interests of containing China. In the past few decades, the India-US relations have been on a constant upwards trajectory and have expanded to include every field from defence and security to technology, space, economy, infrastructure development, etc.
So far, while the US officials have said they are in close contact with Canada and India over the matter, and have said that there is no exception to India or anyone else in such matters, they have tried to keep their distance. They have urged India to cooperate with the Canadians and have expressed hopes that the Canadian investigation would properly proceed.