WASHINGTON: The United States is treating an alleged plot to assassinate a Sikh leader on American soil with “utmost seriousness” and has raised the issue at the senior-most levels in New Delhi, the White House said.

The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that the Biden administration has thwarted the scheme to assassinate Gurpatwant Singh Pannun and now wants India to investigate and hold plotters accountable.

US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson emphasised, “We are treating this issue with utmost seriousness, and it has been raised by the US Government with the Indian Government, including at the senior-most levels”.

On-the-record comments from a senior White House official on an ongoing investigation are rare and indicate the seriousness of the issue. It’s even rarer for a US official to make a statement during the Thanksgiving (Nov 23) holidays when all government and private offices remain closed.

Biden administration officially says it thwarted conspiracy to murder Gurpatwant Singh and now wants Delhi to hold plotters accountable

“In response to the raised concerns, Indian counterparts expressed surprise and concern, asserting that such activities were not consistent with their policy,” Ms Watson said.

“We understand the Indian government is further investigating this issue and will have more to say about it in the coming days. We have conveyed our expectation that anyone deemed responsible should be held accountable.”

Mr Pannun, the target of the alleged plot, accused India of employing terrorism to suppress his advocacy for Khalistan. He emphasised, “The foiled attempt on my life on American soil by the Indian agents is transnational terrorism, which is a threat to US sovereignty, freedom of speech, and democracy, so I will let the US government respond to this threat”.

The timeline and details surrounding how US officials became aware of the plot and the manner in which the assassination attempt was thwarted remain unclear. The FBI is reported to be actively investigating the matter, adding a layer of complexity to the international incident.

Mr Pannun, the general counsel for the US-based Sikhs for Justice group, has been a target of Indian authorities. Recently booked under India’s Unlawful Activities Act, he was designated an “individual terrorist”.

Recently, Mr Pannun released a video urging Sikhs not to fly Air India. India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) accused him of threatening Air India’s operations globally in his video messages released on Nov 4.

Mr Pannun refuted these allegations, stating that his message was to “boycott Air India, not bomb it.”

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2023

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