Senate Foreign Relations Committee Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said Wednesday that news of an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York is “troubling” and underscores a global rise in transnational repression .
“We are seeing an alarming rise in transnational repression on a global scale, where governments send assassins and kidnappers or use international criminal networks to kidnap, harass, intimidate and harm dissidents, journalists and other individuals – far beyond their borders,” Cardin said in a statement Wednesday.
“The disturbing news of a foiled assassination plot against a US citizen involving Indian government officials further highlights the importance of shedding light on governments’ efforts to silence dissidents abroad,” he continued.
Cardin’s remarks come just hours after the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national, faces murder-for-hire charges for allegedly conspiring to murder a Sikh separatist leader in New York earlier this year. Czech authorities arrested and detained Gupta last June, authorities said.
Cardin said he plans to chair a Foreign Relations Committee hearing to assess the extent of “global transnational repression” and how the United States can counter such threats.
Prosecutors did not identify the Sikh leader, but said he was a U.S. citizen. The Washington Post and Financial Times identified the victim as Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. The Hill has contacted Pannun for comment.
Gupta was accused of working with an Indian government employee who prosecutors say led the assassination plot from India. The employee, called CC-1 by prosecutors, described himself as a “senior field officer” with duties related to “security management” and “intelligence.”
Prosecutors said Gupta contacted a person suspected of being a criminal associate to help him hire a hit man. The person was actually a confidential source working with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The source introduced Gupta to a hitman, also an undercover DEA officer, and Gupta allegedly helped facilitate payment of a $15,000 advance for the assassination.
Gupta allegedly told the undercover agent to carry out the murder as soon as possible, while noting that the killing should not take place near planned engagements between senior U.S. and Indian government officials, according to the affidavit.
Without identifying the Sikh separatist leader, prosecutors said the victim was a “vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a U.S.-based organization” that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a northern Indian state. with a large population of Sikhs.
News of the alleged murder-for-hire plot comes days after the United States raised concerns with India over reports of an assassination plot against an American and Canadian Sikh separatist leader . A Financial Times report last week detailed allegations that the United States broke up a plot to kill Pannun on American soil.
Pannun accused India of using terrorism to end its efforts for an independent Sikh state, known as Khalistan, in India.
“The foiled assassination attempt on American soil by Indian agents is transnational terrorism that poses a threat to American sovereignty, free speech and democracy. I will therefore let the American government respond to this threat ” he said in an email. shared with The Hill earlier this month.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters On Wednesday, Canada had been working “since August” with the United States and other global partners to address what it called “very serious allegations.”
Tensions between Canada and India flared in September after Trudeau claimed “credible allegations” could link India to the assassination of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar.
Sarakshi Rai contributed.
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