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Canada charges three Indian nationals for assassination of Sikh separatist

By Tara John, CNN

(CNN) — Three men have been arrested and charged in Canada for allegedly murdering a prominent Sikh separatist, according to police, in a case Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has previously linked to the Indian government, drawing vehement protests from New Delhi.

The suspects were identified in court filings as Karanpreet Singh, Kamalpreet Singh, and Karan Brar. The men are accused of conspiring “with others to commit the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar,” according to the filings. They are also charged on a second count for using a firearm “on or about June 18, 2023… to commit first-degree murder.”

All three suspects are Indian nationals and non-permanent residents of Canada, police said in a press briefing on Friday. Authorities are currently investigating if they have ties to the Indian government – the latest development in a long-running intrigue that has fueled diplomatic tension between Canada and India.

Nijjar, a Canadian citizen, was gunned down by masked men last June outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia. He was a prominent campaigner for a separate Sikh homeland out of India, which would be known as Khalistan and include parts of India’s Punjab state.

Last September, Trudeau said he had credible information linking the Indian government to the killing of Nijjar. The allegation outraged India, which has forcefully denied the claim, calling it “absurd.” The diplomatic fallout saw tit-for-tat expulsions of senior diplomats from both countries.

Authorities did not specify who allegedly conspired with the accused but said there are separate investigations ongoing on Nijjar’s death.

“These efforts include investigating connections to the Government of India,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Assistant Commissioner David Teboul told a Friday press conference.

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. But it garners a level of public sympathy among some in the Sikh diaspora overseas, where activists protected by free speech laws can more openly demand secession from India.

Weeks after Trudeau’s announcement, 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. A US indictment unsealed in November accused an Indian national, Nikhil Gupta, of trying to kill Pannun, who is a wanted man in India and considered a terrorist by the government.

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.

“We have so many targets,” Gupta allegedly said.

Nijjar’s assassination has sent a chill through Sikh activists living abroad. Dr. Pritpal Singh, an American citizen who heads the American Sikh Caucus Committee, told CNN he was alerted with a “duty to warn” by the FBI of a threat to his life after the Canadian’s assassination.

He commended Canadian law enforcement for its “dedication to upholding justice by rigorously pursuing those responsible for these crimes” in a statement, adding that “we, as a community, stand firm in demanding accountability and will continue to advocate for justice to ensure such reprehensible actions are addressed decisively.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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CNN’s Jennifer Hauser contributed reporting from Atlanta.

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