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Canada arrests three for murder of Sikh activist

VANCOUVER, May 4 — Canadian police arrested three men yesterday over the killing in Vancouver last year of a Sikh separatist whose death has been linked to the Indian government.

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The killing of Hardeep Singh Nijjar plunged Canada and India into a serious diplomatic crisis last fall after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggested the Indian government was involved in the killing.

India dismissed the allegations as “absurd” and responded furiously, briefly restricting visas for Canadians and forcing Ottawa to withdraw diplomats.

Three Indian nationals, two aged 22 and one aged 28, were arrested yesterday and charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. They are accused of being the shooter, driver and lookout on the day Nijjar was killed.

They were arrested by police in Edmonton, where they live in the neighboring province of Alberta, and are being held pending further proceedings.

All had been in Canada for between three and five years, police said at a news conference.

“This investigation does not end here. We are aware that others may have played a role in this murder,” said Mandeep Mooker of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Homicide Investigation Team.

‘Credible allegations’

Nijjar — who immigrated to Canada in 1997 and became a citizen in 2015 — advocated a separate Sikh state, known as Khalistan, carved out of India.

He was wanted by Indian authorities for alleged terrorism and conspiracy to commit murder.

On June 18, 2023, he was shot dead by masked assailants in the parking lot of the Sikh temple he led in suburban Vancouver.

Trudeau announced several months later that Canada had “credible allegations” linking Indian intelligence to the killing and expelled an Indian official, fueling diplomatic negotiations with New Delhi.

Mooker said Canadian police are still investigating the suspects’ ties, “if any, to the Indian government.”

“It’s a bit of a sigh of relief that the investigation is making progress,” Moninder Singh, a close friend of Nijjar, told AFP.

“It is ultimately India that is responsible and hires individuals to assassinate Sikh leaders abroad,” said Singh, spokesperson for the British Columbia Council of Gurdwaras.

In November, the US Justice Department accused an Indian citizen living in the Czech Republic of plotting a similar assassination attempt on US soil.

Prosecutors said in unsealed court documents that an Indian government official was also involved in the planning.

The shocking allegations came after US President Joe Biden hosted Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a rare state visit as Washington seeks closer ties with India against China’s growing influence.

U.S. intelligence agencies have determined that the plot was approved on U.S. soil by then-Indian spy official Samant Goel, The Washington Post reported this week.

Canada is home to about 770,000 Sikhs, who make up about two percent of the country’s population, while a vocal minority calls for an independent state of Khalistan. – AFP