RAW official was involved in assassination plot of Sikh separatist leader Pannun: Report

PTI, Apr 30, 2024, 8:54 AM IST

Washington: A RAW official identified as Vikram Yadav was involved in the assassination plot of Sikh separatist leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in the US and the move was approved by the then Indian spy agency chief Samant Goel, according to an investigative media report published on Monday.

Pannun is one of the main leaders of the Khalistan movement and the legal advisor and spokesperson for Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which aims to promote the idea of a separate Sikh state. The Indian government has declared Pannun a terrorist.

In an investigative report, The Washington Post newspaper said, “That India would pursue lethal operations in North America has stunned Western security officials.”

“Yadav’s identity and affiliation, which have not previously been reported, provide the most explicit evidence to date that the assassination plan — ultimately thwarted by US authorities — was directed from within the Indian spy service,” the daily reported.

“Higher-ranking (Research and Analysis Wing) RAW officials have also been implicated, according to current and former Western security officials, as part of a sprawling investigation by the CIA, FBI and other agencies that has mapped potential links to (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) Modi’s inner circle,” it said.

The top American daily — which is now owned by American billionaire Jeff Bezos, founder and head of Amazon — said it is investigating a global surge in such campaigns of cross-border repression, as well as the global forces leading India and other nations to employ tactics normally associated with the world’s most repressive governments.

For this story, Post reporters conducted dozens of interviews with officials, experts and targeted individuals in New Delhi, Washington, Ottawa, London, Prague and Berlin, it said.

“In reports that have been closely held within the American government, US intelligence agencies have assessed that the operation targeting Pannun was approved by the RAW chief at the time, Samant Goel,” the daily claimed.

“That finding is consistent with accounts provided to The Washington Post by former senior Indian security officials who had knowledge of the operation and said Goel was under extreme pressure to eliminate the alleged threat of Sikh extremists overseas. US spy agencies have more tentatively assessed that Modi’s national security adviser, Ajit Doval, was probably aware of RAW’s plans to kill Sikh activists, but officials emphasised that no smoking gun proof has emerged,” it said.

Quoting officials, The Washington Post said, the foiled assassination was part of an escalating campaign of aggression by RAW against the Indian diaspora in Asia, Europe and North America.

The alleged plot to kill Pannun in the US coincided with the June 18 fatal shooting of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Surrey in Canada’s British Columbia province in June last year. That operation was also linked to Yadav, according to Western officials.

Both plots took place amid a wave of violence in Pakistan, where at least 11 Sikh or Kashmiri separatists living in exile and labelled terrorists by the Modi government have been killed over the past two years, the report said.

Senior Indian government officials named in the Washington Post report did not respond to it seeking comment, the daily said.

However, when asked about the investigation into the allegations made by the US in the Pannun case, Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said last week, “We have set up a high-level committee. The committee is looking into information that was shared by the American side with us, because they also equally impact our national security.” The high-level committee is looking into those aspects and that is where it is right now, Jaiswal said in New Delhi on April 25.

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on April 1 had said that India’s national security interests are involved in its investigation into the alleged involvement of a government official in the assassination plot aimed at Khalistani extremist Pannun.

The Washington Post reported that the Biden administration has refrained from making charges against Yadav. “Charging decisions are the prerogative of law enforcement alone,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told The Washington Post, “and the Biden NSC has rigorously respected that independence.”

“The only US charges made public to date are against an alleged middleman, Nikhil Gupta, who is described in the indictment as an Indian drug and weapons trafficker enlisted to hire a contract killer. Gupta, an Indian national who has denied the charges, was arrested in Prague on June 30 and remains in prison. He is awaiting a Czech court ruling on a US request for his extradition,” the Post reported.

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