The US Justice Department on Wednesday charged an Indian citizen with directing a foiled plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist leader in New York City.
Nikhil Gupta faces murder-for-hire charges, the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York announced. Mr Gupta was arrested in June by authorities in the Czech Republic, with whom the US has an extradition treaty.
“As alleged, the defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Mr Gupta has been charged with murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire. Both carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
The statement did not reveal the victim's identity, but Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a US citizen of Indian origin and Sikh separatist leader, has been reported to be the target.
Mr Pannun is general counsel of Sikhs for Justice, an organisation supporting a Sikh state called Khalistan, independent from India.
The Financial Times first reported last week that Mr Pannun was the target of the failed plot and that the White House raised the issue “at the most senior levels” of the Indian government.
The report said the protest came after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the White House in June.
Mr Pannun declined to tell the FT whether US authorities warned him about the plot, but said he would let the US respond “to the issue of threats to my life on American soil from the Indian operatives”.
“The victim is a vocal critic of the Indian government and leads a US-based organisation that advocates for the secession of Punjab, a state in northern India that is home to a large population of Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India,” the US Attorney's Office said.
“The victim has publicly called for some or all of Punjab to secede from India and establish a Sikh sovereign state called Khalistan, and the Indian government has banned the victim and his separatist organisation from India.”
According to the Justice Department, an Indian government employee identified as “CC-1" worked with others – including Mr Gupta – in India and elsewhere to direct a plot to assassinate a US-born Indian target residing in New York.
Mr Gupta was recruited by CC-1 earlier this year to “orchestrate the assassination of the victim” in the US, the Attorney's Office said in a news release.
The intended victim was an associate of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist who was murdered by masked gunmen outside a Sikh temple near Vancouver, Canada, in June.
After Mr Nijjar's murder, Mr Gupta said “there was 'now no need to wait'” on assassinating the victim, the US Attorney's Office said.
India has denied involvement in Mr Nijjar's assassination.