Three arrested and charged in connection with the murder of Sikh activists in Canada

Three Indian nationals have been arrested and charged over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada, sparking a major diplomatic row between the two countries.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar, 45, was shot dead by masked gunmen in a crowded parking lot in suburban Vancouver last June.

The diplomatic row escalated after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged that the Indian government may have been involved, the BBC reports.

Delhi strongly denied the allegation.

Announcing the arrests on Friday, Chief Inspector Mandeep Mooker said the three suspects were Karan Brar, 22, Kamal Preet Singh, 22, and 28-year-old Karan Preet Singh.

He said all three lived in Edmonton, Alberta, where they were arrested. They have been charged with first-degree murder, court records show, and with conspiracy to commit murder.

All had been in Canada for three to five years, police said.

Police added that investigations were continuing, including into “connections with the Government of India”.

“Separate and separate investigations into these matters are ongoing. Certainly not limited to the involvement of the people arrested today,” said Deputy Commissioner David Teboul.

Researchers have been working with colleagues in India, but the collaboration has been “quite difficult and quite challenging” for several years, they said.

Police said others may be involved in the killing, and more arrests or charges may follow.

Mr Nijjar was a Sikh separatist leader who publicly campaigned for Khalistan – the creation of an independent Sikh homeland in the Punjab region of India.

In the 1970s, Sikhs launched a separatist uprising in India, killing thousands before it was suppressed over the next decade. Since then, the movement has been largely confined to countries with large Sikh populations.

India has in the past described Mr Nijjar as a terrorist who led a militant separatist group; accusations that his supporters say are unfounded. They say he has received threats in the past because of his activism.

He was shot dead on June 18 last year at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, a city about 30 kilometers east of Vancouver.

People close to him have said that before his death he was warned by Canadian intelligence services that he was on a “hit list” and that there had been threats on his life.

Moninder Singh, a member of the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council who was friends with Mr. Nijjar for 15 years, told BBC News that the Sikh community was grateful for the progress in the investigation.

However, he said there are still “public safety concerns” and “a lot of tension.” There is frustration. And there is also hope.’

Three months after his death, Trudeau said in the House of Commons that Canada is looking at “credible allegations that may link” the Indian state to the killing.

The accusation was strongly denied by Indian officials, who accused Canada of harboring “Khalistani terrorists and extremists”.

The row between the two countries prompted Delhi to ask Ottawa to reduce the number of envoys in India.

Mr. Trudeau has also faced pressure to provide evidence for his claim about Delhi’s involvement.