Gurpatwant Singh Pannun was the target of an assassination scenario by Indian intelligence agents. Photo/Business Today
WASHINGTON – Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, the target of a foiled assassination plot in the United States, was an immigration lawyer charged with terrorism in India for advocating separatism and holding a referendum abroad to create an independent Sikh state.
US authorities have thwarted an attempt to assassinate him and have issued a warning to India over concerns that New Delhi was involved, prompting Indian officials to express “shock and concern” in response, US officials said on Wednesday.
This is the second diplomatic incident to put New Delhi in the global spotlight after Canada accused the country of being linked to the killing of a Sikh separatist in Vancouver in June.
Who is Gurpatwant Singh Pannun?
1. Carry out Advocacy on Social Media
According to Reuters, Pannun is known for his video messages shared on social media, often depicted as threats against India’s leaders and government, most of whom are depicted in dark formal wear and sporting a white beard.
He said he was a senior systems analyst at financial firm Merrill Lynch while attending law school in New York from 1997 to 2002, after earning a master’s degree in business administration.
2. Accused of being a terrorist and separatist
Recently, India’s anti-terror agency filed a case against him on charges related to terrorism and conspiracy, alleging that he threatened Air India airline passengers in a video that their lives were in danger.
Pannun, who claims to have US and Canadian citizenship, told Reuters his message was to boycott the airline, not bomb it. He added that the case filed against him was “frivolous” and intended to block his 2024 referendum in the US on the creation of Khalistan, a state demanded by separatist groups.
New Delhi listed Pannun as an “individual terrorist” in 2020 for challenging India’s security by funding violence and issuing a call to “gangsters and youth based in Punjab” to fight for Khalistan.
An arrest warrant has been issued against him in India, where he was born in the northern state of Punjab.
3. Pushing for the Independence of the State of Punjab
Pannun said that the referendum initiative had been launched to “peacefully advance the cause of liberation of Indian-controlled Punjab (state)”.
Some Sikh separatist groups say they seek an independent homeland to protect their culture and religion in Hindu-majority India.
4. Only Popular Among the Sikh Diaspora
Pannun’s popularity was limited to only a few overseas Sikh diaspora groups, when he organized a Khalistan referendum in which more than 1.3 million people voted in the UK, Italy, Australia and Canada.
In January 2021, during massive farmer protests in India, the anti-terror agency filed a case against Pannun for alleged conspiracy to incite rebellion against the Indian government, media reported.