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An Indian government official directed an unsuccessful plot to assassinate a Sikh separatist in New York City, US justice chiefs have claimed.

They allege the Indian government employee, who worked in security and intelligence, recruited another Indian national named as Nikhil Gupta to plan the assassination of a US citizen who had advocated for a Sikh sovereign state in northern India.

It comes after the Canadian government sparked a diplomatic row by claiming India may have been involved in the June killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia.

On Wednesday, US Department of Justice (DoJ) officials announced charges against Gupta, 52, who they claim worked with the Indian government employee on the alleged plot to kill the US citizen.

The Indian government official is named only as CC-1 but has described himself as a “senior field officer” with responsibilities in “security management” and “intelligence” and also claims to have served in India’s Central Reserve Police Force and been trained in “battle craft” and “weapons,” an indictment against Gupta said.

Prosecutors allege the Indian official recruited Gupta in May 2023 to orchestrate the assassination, and he then reached out to someone he believed was a criminal associate for help hiring a hitman.

However, prosecutors said the associate was actually an undercover agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

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According to the indictment, released on Wednesday, Gupta agreed to a $100,000 (£79,000) fee for the killing and paid $15,000 (£12,000) upfront via an associate.

The target of the assassination was not named in the court documents, but the Associated Press identified him as Gurpatwant Singh Pannun – a US-based Sikh separatist whom the Indian government considers a terrorist.

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. File pic by AP
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Gurpatwant Singh Pannun. File pic by AP

The indictment said that, in June, the Indian government employee gave Gupta the home address of Pannun, his phone numbers and details about his daily conduct, including surveillance photographs, which Gupta then passed on to the undercover DEA agent.

It added that Gupta told the undercover agent to carry out the murder as quickly as possible, but also warned the agent not to act during meetings between US and Indian officials.

US Attorney Damian Williams said: “The defendant conspired from India to assassinate, right here in New York City, a US citizen of Indian origin who has publicly advocated for the establishment of a sovereign state for Sikhs, an ethnoreligious minority group in India.”

Gupta, who faces two counts of murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire conspiracy, was arrested by Czech authorities in June and is awaiting extradition.

The news agency Reuters says he could not be reached for comment.

The charges come after an official of President Joe Biden’s administration last week said authorities had thwarted a plot to kill Pannun.

The official also issued a warning to India over concerns the government in New Delhi may have had knowledge of the plot.

On Wednesday, India’s foreign ministry said New Delhi would formally investigate the concerns aired by the US.

“India takes such inputs seriously since they impinge on our national security interests as well,” the ministry said, vowing to “take necessary follow-up action” on the findings.

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The Indian government has complained about the presence of Sikh separatist groups outside India, including in Canada and the US.

The groups have kept alive the movement for Khalistan – the demand for an independent Sikh state to be carved out of India.

The movement is considered a security threat by India – who have blamed Sikh militants for the 1985 bombing of an Air India Boeing 747 flying from Canada to India when all 329 people on board were killed.

In October, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said there were “credible allegations” that India was involved in the killing of Nijjar.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar Pic: Sikh PA
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Ealier this year, Canada claimed India may have been involved in the killing of Sikh activist, Hardeep Singh Nijjar (pictured). Pic: Sikh PA

The Indian government accused Nijjar in 2020 of being a leader of a Sikh independence militant group, reported Reuters, which also said New Delhi claims he was associated with a “terrorist organisation”.

Nijjar, a 45-year-old Canadian citizen, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple in Surrey, British Columbia, on 18 June.

Claims it was involved in Nijjar’s death were dismissed as “absurd” by India, which threatened to revoke the diplomatic immunity of Canadian diplomats following Mr Trudeau’s comments.

Canada responded by withdrawing 41 of its 62 diplomats from India. It also expelled an Indian diplomat from Ottawa over the affair.

Mr Trudeau has responded to the latest allegations against Gupta by saying that the US investigation underscores the need for India to take similar allegations by Canada seriously.

The White House – which has placed a high priority on improving ties with India to counter China – declined to comment directly on the charges against Gupta, but said administration officials acted quickly.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement: “When we were made aware of the fact that the defendant in this case had credibly indicated that he was directed to arrange the murder by an individual who is assessed to be an employee of the Indian government, we took this information very seriously and engaged in direct conversations with the Indian government at the highest levels to express our concern.”

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Three women killed in brothel in Austria

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Three women killed in brothel in Austria

Police have arrested a man after three women were killed in a brothel in the Austrian capital Vienna.

The women were found with “cuts and stab wounds”, police said.

Police found a fourth woman inside the brothel and she was being questioned by the police as a witness.

A 27-year-old man was arrested in the vicinity of the brothel while carrying a knife, which is suspected to be the weapon.

Police said the suspect is an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan and will be questioned by police later on Saturday.

A witness had discovered traces of blood outside the building, located near the Danube River, and alerted police on Friday evening.

The identities of the three victims remains unclear.

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Brothels are legal in Austria.

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‘Significant progress’ in Paris hostage talks – Israeli media

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'Significant progress' in Paris hostage talks - Israeli media

There has been “significant progress” in hostage talks in Paris, according to Israeli media.

Negotiators have been ramping up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced people are sheltering.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this week on his first visit since December.

A Hamas official said yesterday that the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and were waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel.

It comes after the Gaza’s health ministry said death toll from the nearly five months of war has risen to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.

Speaking on Friday, Hamas political official Osama Hamdan said the militant group has “dealt positively with the proposals and initiatives of the mediators” but that Israel’s position “poses many obstacles to reaching an agreement”.

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He said the Israelis had refused the main demands put forward by Hamas to “stop the aggression, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to return displaced people to the north (of Gaza), and to make a real reciprocal deal” on exchanging the Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Mr Hamdan said his group is sticking to these demands.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the militant group’s demands “delusional”.

Israel wants open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in Gaza, according to a long-awaited post-war plan drawn up by Mr Netanyahu.

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UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year

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UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year

Any move to introduce conscription by Britain and other NATO allies would make a difference to Europe’s defences against Russia, Latvia’s foreign minister has said.

Krisjanis Karins said the larger the country, the bigger the difference.

Asked whether he was advocating such a step, the top diplomat told Sky News that he is “happily sharing” with colleagues the experience of his own nation, which reinstated mandatory military service last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We think it’s a very good idea for us,” the foreign minister said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent security conference in Germany.

“I think other NATO allies could consider it as well.”

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Latvia, one of the three Baltic states who are members of the NATO alliance, scrapped conscription almost two decades ago.

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But it decided to reintroduce the draft as part of a plan effectively to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.

“The point of the draft is to beef up capable, equipped and trained reservists,” Mr Karins, a previous Latvian prime minister, said.

“It’s not replacing the professional army. It’s augmenting the professional army.”

Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea
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Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea

Asked whether he thought it would make a difference if the UK started conscription, the foreign minister said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country [did] – and of course, the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”

As for whether this was an idea he was pushing, he said with a smile: “It’s the experience that we have that I’m happily sharing with all of my friends and colleagues.”

But UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who also spoke to Sky News at the Munich Security Conference last week, sounded less than keen about even training citizens voluntarily – an idea the head of the British Army appears to support – let alone mandatory military service.

“We have a professional army of professional armed forces. It’s really important that they are trained to the highest possible standards,” Mr Shapps said in an interview.

“Everyone knows that in a wartime – First World War, Second World War – scenario, of course, countries have to make other arrangements.

“That’s not the position we’re in now. We have absolutely no plans to do that now. And so that’s not something which is on the agenda currently.”

Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year
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Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year

Yet a Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.

“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.

“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the Latvian capital Riga.

“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”

Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.

The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.

“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.

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British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are 'absolutely no plans' for conscription
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British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are ‘absolutely no plans’ for conscription

One group of soldiers provided cover, as a second group moved forward, stopped and then took their turn to provide cover as their colleagues advanced.

Edging close to the site where their pretend enemy had launched the ambush, the troops lobbed an imaginary grenade and hit the ground to brace for what would – if done for real – be a deadly impact, before scrambling forward to press on with their counterattack.

Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.

“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.

Conscripts can choose to go through a solid 11 months of training or stretch it out during five years, in between their civilian lives.

Eduard said he had decided to do the latter so he could continue his studies as well.

As for what he would do if Russia attacked, the young man said: “I will defend my country.”

Maxim, 21, a second conscript, was also enthusiastic about his limited time in uniform.

“I’d recommend that everyone samples the emotions and experiences of military life, then – if they like it – maybe they will seek to join the armed forces full time,” he said.

A total of 39 trainees were going through the basic training course at the Meza Mackevici base of 3rd Latgalian Brigade, National Armed Forces

Split into smaller units of nine to 12 people, they train, eat and sleep together.

Each day starts at 6am and ends at 11pm.

Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an 'obligation' to serve in the military
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Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an ‘obligation’ to serve in the military

The trainees sleep on bunkbeds in makeshift dormitories that line a one-storey hangar. A canteen is in a second hanger, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Each morning, they sing the national anthem on a parade ground before three tall flag poles displaying the colours of Latvia, NATO and Ukraine – the war in that country, a constant reminder of why all three Baltic states are doing so much more to mobilise their people.

One instructor, a professional soldier who was sipping soup from a bowl during his lunchbreak, offered his perspective on conscription.

“I think that the most important thing is to awaken the desire to protect and defend your country,” said Staff Sergeant Gunars Brencis, 36.

“[It is] to awaken the patriots in them so that they have the courage to stand up against the enemy if needed.”

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