The US has confirmed that it shared intelligence with Canada after the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh separatist leader and a designated terrorist by India, in June this year. However, the US denied having any prior knowledge of the plot and said it would have warned Canada if it did. Canada, on the other hand, claimed that it had intercepted communications of Indian diplomats indicating their role in the murder.
Nijjar’s death sparks diplomatic row
Nijjar, who was the chief of the banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and also associated with the outlawed group Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), was shot dead by two masked gunmen outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia, on June 18. He was wanted by India for several cases of terrorism, including a cinema bombing, an assassination of a politician, and a planned attack on a religious sect. He had also been accused of running terrorist training camps in Canada and organizing an unofficial referendum for an independent Sikh state in India.
His killing triggered a diplomatic row between India and Canada, with the latter alleging that Indian government agents were potentially involved in the murder. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made this stunning claim in parliament last week, saying that Canadian security agencies had been pursuing credible allegations of a link between India and Nijjar’s killing. He also said that Canada had shared evidence with India weeks ago and expected cooperation from New Delhi.
India, however, rejected the allegations as “absurd” and “motivated” and said that Canada was being a safe haven for terrorists. India also expelled a senior Canadian diplomat in retaliation to Ottawa’s expulsion of an Indian official over the case. India denied any involvement in Nijjar’s death and said that it had sought his extradition for years but Canada had not taken any action against him.
US role under scrutiny
The New York Times reported on Saturday that the US had provided Canada with intelligence after Nijjar’s death that helped Canada conclude that India had been involved. The report cited unnamed allied officials as saying that the US intelligence agencies offered their Canadian counterparts context that indicated India’s role in the plot. However, the report also said that what appeared to be the “smoking gun” – intercepted communications of Indian diplomats in Canada – was gathered by Canadian officials.
The US Ambassador to Canada, David Cohen, confirmed in an interview with CTV News that there was “shared intelligence among Five Eyes partners” – a reference to the intelligence alliance of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US – that informed Trudeau of the possible involvement of Indian agents in Nijjar’s murder. He said that there was a lot of communication between Canada and the US about this matter, but he did not elaborate further.
Cohen also said that the US had urged India to cooperate with Canada in its investigations and expressed hope that the diplomatic spat would not affect the bilateral relations between the two countries. He said that the US valued its partnership with both India and Canada and hoped that they would resolve their differences through dialogue.
Nijjar’s supporters mourn his loss
Meanwhile, Nijjar’s supporters in Canada have mourned his loss and remembered him as a peaceful advocate for Sikh independence and a community leader. A large memorial has been set up for him outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara where he served as president. His funeral was attended by hundreds of people.
Nijjar’s son Balraj told CBC News that his father was not a terrorist but a freedom fighter who wanted justice for the Sikhs who suffered atrocities in India. He said that his father had received threats from Indian agents before his death and had been warned by Canadian intelligence services as well. He also said that his father had told him to have dinner ready on Father’s Day, but he never came home.
Nijjar’s killing has also raised concerns among some Sikhs in Canada who fear for their safety and security. They have called for more protection from the Canadian government and urged it to stand up to India’s alleged interference in their affairs.