The announcement of an Indian diplomat’s expulsion following Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s claim about a “potential link” between Indian government agents and Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s killing in June has again brought into focus the slain Khalistani leader.
Nijjar, 46, a Canadian citizen, was one of the most wanted terrorists in India before two unknown assailants killed him outside a gurudwara in British Columbia’s Surrey. A key functionary in the Khalistani network, Nijjar was declared an “individual terrorist” under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in July 2020. He was accused of involvement in multiple cases of targeted killings in Punjab and funding secessionist activities. Nijjar was also blamed for instigating anti-India activities and being in touch with Pakistani agents.
Nijjar was associated with Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) before joining Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and becoming its head. Officials in intelligence agencies said Nijjar travelled to Pakistan to meet KTF leader Jagtar Singh Tara and handlers in the Pakistani spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence sometime in 2013-14.
An official, who did not want to be named, said Nijjar monitored the recruitment and funding of young Sikh men for terror activities. At Punjab Police’s request, Interpol issued a red notice against Nijjar in 2016 while the National Investigation Agency (NIA) announced a ₹10 lakh bounty on his head in July last year.
“Despite repeated requests to take action against Khalistani leaders based on its territory, the Canadian government allowed Nijjar and others to roam and carry out their activities freely,” said a second Indian intelligence official, who did not want to be named.
Nijjar organised demonstrations outside Indian missions in the US, the UK, Germany, Canada, Australia, etc under the banner of banned Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) along with other pro-Khalistan leaders such as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, Paramjit Singh Pamma, and Avtar Singh Khanda, who died in the UK in June.
Indian agencies believe these people were also behind vandalism outside Indian missions or consulates, which the NIA is currently probing.
A week before Nijjar’s killing, Khanda, the leader of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), died in a hospital in the UK. Khanda was involved in vandalism outside the Indian High Commission in London in March.
Indian intelligence officials said that Khanda, Pamma, Pannunm, and Nijjar worked together. They suspected Nijjar and Pamma’s involvement in Khanda’s killing as they considered him to be a liability to Khalistanis in the UK after his role in the attack on the high commission was exposed.
Another Khalistani leader, Paramjit Singh Panjwar, the head of the Khalistan Commando Force (KCF), was shot dead in Pakistan’s Lahore on May 6.
NIA filed a charge sheet in December 2020 against Pannun, Pamma, and Nijjar. It said SFJ was floated under the garb of a human rights advocacy group with offices in countries such as the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, etc. NIA said SFJ is a frontal organisation of Khalistani terrorist outfits operating from foreign soil, including Pakistan.
“Under this campaign, numerous social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube Channels, and a number of websites have been launched…[they] are being used to propagate sedition as well as enmity on the grounds of region and religion, to radicalise impressionable youth, to cause disturbance to peace and harmony and to raise funds for terrorist activities,” the agency said.