New evidence reveals India planned to kill Gurpatwant Singh Pannun at Sikh wedding in Canada

US govt reveals it had foiled high-profile assassination bid by Indian govt against Pannun in New York last year

Murtaza Ali Shah
Sikhs for Justice leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. — Reporter

LONDON: The Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) leader and India’s most wanted man Gurpatwant Singh Pannun was also the target of a failed Indian assassination plot in Canada at a Sikh wedding, new evidence has revealed. 

The US govt revealed a few months ago that it had foiled a high-profile assassination plot of the Indian government against Pannun in New York last year — around the time Pannun’s friend and SFJ Canada leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar was killed — but it was not known till now that the Indian government had also planned to assassinate Pannun at a wedding in Canada where he was widely rumoured to be in attendance.

Canada’s respected CBC News has reported that the November 3, 2023, arrest of Amandeep Singh — one of four men charged in a killing linked by Ottawa directly to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government — in Brampton, Ontario, was made a day before a wedding in the city that gathered key figures from New Delhi's Sikh enemies list, who were pro-Khalistan Sikhs from Canada and USA. 

Amandeep was arrested with a loaded FN509 9mm gun containing a prohibited 24-round extended magazine while three others were arrested with loaded extended magazines. All of them were believed to be looking for Pannun, who is also a New York-based lawyer.

Sikh insiders expected US-Canadian citizen Pannun, who is considered one of India's top-priority targets, to attend the wedding due to his close friendship with the groom's father and longtime Khalistani activist Santokh Singh Khela.

Initially charged with firearms, drug, and breach offences, Amandeep spent six months in pre-trial detention before also being charged with first-degree murder in the Nijjar case.

According to a US federal indictment unsealed in November, Indian agents attempted to assassinate Pannun in New York City by mistakenly approaching a US Drug Enforcement Administration confidential informant to hire a hitman.

Pannun, who is currently under the US government protection, leads Sikhs for Justice, the organisation behind the global referendum effort.

India has labelled him a wanted terrorist, but he asserts that his group operates solely through peaceful means.

Pannun decided that his presence at the wedding would impose on his host and other guests, prompting him to call Khela and announce his decision to forgo attending the gathering, CBS News said.

The hitman Amandeep was arrested in Brampton on Nov. 3, 2023 - four and a half months after Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing in the parking lot of the gurdwara on June 18, 2023. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said repeatedly there is credible information pointing to the Indian government's involvement in Nijjar's killing under instructions of Narendra Modi.

The November 4, 2023 wedding of the son of a prominent Khalistani activist at a gurdwara in Brampton was attended by a number of Khalistanis who also have reason to believe that their lives are in danger from the government of India, including some who have received "Duty to Warn" letters from the Canada intelligence. At the last minute, Pannun called his friend and told him that he would not attend because of security concerns and also because his presence would take attention away from the family.

On September 10, 2023, the Sikhs for Justice held one of a series of referendums on Punjabi independence from India at the local Gurdwara in Surrey, the polling station was overwhelmed by the high turnout and many local Sikhs were turned away without being able to cast a ballot. A public meeting was held at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara to schedule a second round of voting for October 29, 2023.

Longtime Khalistani activist Santokh Singh Khela said he realized the second round of voting would conflict with his son's wedding, scheduled for the day before.

"We have to postpone that because all the Sikh referendum volunteers, all the guys, organizers, everybody was coming to the wedding. So we decided over there, [the] wedding will be set up in one week. After that, the date was the 4th of November," Khela told CBC News.

The new wedding date was announced publicly. Confidential sources told CBC News that there are informants within the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara who relay information to the government of India.

"It was universally assumed I would be in Brampton for the wedding of the son of one of my dearest and oldest friends. This was the general perception in the community, that I would be attending a religious function because that's the only function I have ever attended in the past. Until a day or so (before), I was very sure that I would go. Then I decided not to go to avoid being a burden on my friend’s family," Pannun told CBS News.

Moninder Singh Bual, who was a close friend and collaborator of Nijjar and who also received "Duty to Warn" letters from the RCMP at the same time in 2022, arrived in Brampton from British Columbia (BC) on the evening of November 3, 2023.

"It was the night before the wedding and I was there for it," he said. 

Bual said he did hear chatter while in BC about potential dangers in Ontario.

"I had heard something as I was leaving Vancouver, that I should be very careful while I'm in Toronto, as in there were people here in Vancouver that potentially could be in Toronto now that might want to harm us in some way," he said.

"I think you would refer to them as probably Sikh leadership from across the country. A lot of people that were there that day, whether they're from Toronto or Calgary or Vancouver or from Montreal, you know, are fully invested within that Khalistan movement," he added. 

The same day that Bual arrived in Ontario, Peel Regional Police made two traffic stops — the first at noon in Vaughan, Ontario and the second almost four hours later in Brampton.

They arrested Amandeep, who was held for possession of firearms, drugs and breach of conditions charges. Last month, he was also charged with first-degree murder in the death of Nijjar.

The first traffic stop produced a loaded FN509 9mm handgun containing a prohibited 24-round extended magazine. The second stop produced two more loaded extended magazines.

CBC News said it has obtained a video which shows Amandeep driving a car on a road at night with his left hand on the steering wheel and an earth-coloured semi-automatic pistol in his right hand.

Khela told CBC News that Canadian police have communicated with him several times since the wedding, encouraging him to take precautions by installing cameras at the front and back of his house among other things. 

Bual returned to BC the day after the wedding with no knowledge of the arrests on November 3. 

"Looking back on that weekend, the types of arrests that were made of the fourth shooter in Hardeep's case," he said. 

"Now it seems like there's a lot of dots that could be connected for that weekend. We have the US indictment that comes out a couple of weeks later that says that it wasn't just Hardeep. There were three or four other Sikh Khalistani leaders in Canada [allegedly targeted by India]. There may have been not a better opportune time than that weekend, when a lot of us were gathering, for something to actually potentially happen," he added. 

Pannun, Bual and Khela all told CBC News that the arrests of Amandeep Singh and seven other men — including three others charged in the Nijjar murder — have not put an end to the danger they face from the Indian government.

"Indian PM Mr Modi, their external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, their defence minister Mr Rajnath Singh, have all made statements that they're actually taking credit almost for these types of assassinations in foreign countries," said Bual.

On May 23, Modi appeared to take credit for overseas assassinations at a campaign rally in Patiala, Punjab.

Modi told the crowd his government "has the courage to go into the homes of the terrorists and kill them."

Pannun said Indian authorities are not getting clear enough signals from the US and Canadian governments that illegal activities in North America won't be tolerated.

"(Modi) said when he comes back to power within six months, there will not be any designated terrorists left," he said. 

"They are going to eliminate everyone."