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Gunfire hits home of Canadian Sikh separatist, months after assassination sent Canada-India ties spiraling

By Tara John, Paula Newton and Yong Xiong, CNN

(CNN) — The home of a Canadian Sikh activist in Brampton, Ontario, was hit by gunfire on Monday, months after the assassination of another activist sent India-Canada relations into a spiral.

A bullet hole was discovered in the window of Inderjit Singh Gosal’s home on Monday by construction workers, according to local police and the US-based group Sikhs for Justice, a group Gosal had been working with that advocates for a separate Sikh homeland.

“It appears that only one bullet hole was found but that is subject to change,” Peel Regional Police wrote in a statement.

The police said an investigation was underway, adding that while it was “unknown at this time if there is any relation to the group Sikhs for Justice, investigators will consider all possibilities.”

Sikhs for Justice believes Gosal may have been targeted for his role in campaigning for the creation of a separate Sikh homeland out of India, which would be known as Khalistan and include parts of India’s Punjab state.

The group, which supports the creation of Khalistan, said in a statement that the bullet hole was found “days after Gosal announced the Khalistan Freedom Rally at the Indian Consulate Toronto on February 17.”

Campaigning for the creation of Khalistan has long been outlawed in India, where painful memories of a deadly insurgency by some Sikh separatists continue to haunt many Indian citizens. But it garners a level of public sympathy among some in the Sikh diaspora overseas, where protected by free speech laws, activists can more openly advocate for secession from India.

The movement gained international prominence when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claimed in September he had credible information linking the Indian government to the killing of prominent Sikh leader and Khalistan supporter Hardeep Singh Nijjar. The Canadian citizen was gunned down by masked men last June outside a Sikh temple in British Colombia.

The allegation outraged India, which has vehemently denied the claim, calling it “absurd and motivated.” The diplomatic fallout saw tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats from both countries.

Weeks later, the United States accused an Indian government official of being involved in a conspiracy to kill another Sikh separatist, American citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, on  US soil.

Gosal – the man whose house was hit by gunfire in Ontario – is a close aide to Pannun, who is the chief legal counsel of Sikhs for Justice and is considered a terrorist by the Indian government.

A US indictment unsealed in November accused an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, of trying to kill Pannun. US prosecutors say Gupta was acting on orders from an unnamed Indian government official. India’s government has denied any involvement in the alleged plot to kill Pannun.

Just one day after Nijjar was killed in Canada, US prosecutors say Gupta allegedly told an undercover law enforcement official posing as a hitman that Nijjar had also been one of his targets and that “we have so many targets.”

Following the discovery of the bullet hole in his window, Gosal said in a statement shared by Sikhs for Justice, “No amount of threats and violence can stop me from advocating for the liberation of Punjab from Indian occupation.”

CNN has reached out to the Indian government and Global Affairs Canada for comment.

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