Probe by Indian agencies has thrown up the names of Tariq Kiyani and Rahat Rao as key suspects in Nijjar’s killing.
At a time when the Indian government has denied any role in the killing of Khalistan Tiger Force chief Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Canada, preliminary investigations by Indian security agencies have thrown up names of two ISI agents—Tariq Kiyani and Rahat Rao—as probable murder plotters or killers of the Khalistani terrorist during a gang war over sharing of the spoils of illegal drugs trade and immigration business.
Rao and Kiyani were identified as Nijjar’s handlers appointed by the ISI to push the Khalistan agenda and spread drugs smuggling. The two were allegedly unhappy with Nijjar’s decisions to ignore their instructions and misuse the money flowing in from drugs smuggling, said sources.
The diplomatic row between India and Canada over the Nijjar killing took a fresh twist with top Khalistani extremist and head of the banned US-based Sikhs for Justice outfit, Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, in a social media video, blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Nijjar’s killing. He threatened to attack the Indian Parliament and disrupt an ICC World Cup cricket match in Ahmedabad on 6 October. The Delhi Police have registered an FIR in the matter and started an investigation.
Meanwhile, the international attention received by Nijjar’s killing has lent a fresh sense of urgency within the Indian security establishment to up the ante against anti-India and pro-Khalistan elements and gangsters who support them.
Apart from taking coercive action against such elements and their properties in India, the government is planning to renew efforts to seek help from the United States, UK, Australia, Canada and the UAE for action against 19 such terror operatives and their supporters identified by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
These anti-India elements include Canada-based Lakhbir Singh and Jatinder Singh Gerawal; US-based J.S. Dhaliwal, Harjap Singh, S. Himmat Singh, Amardeep Singh Purewal and Harpreet Singh; UK-based Paramjit Pamma, Kulwant Singh, Sukhpal, Sarabjit Singh, Gurmeet Singh, Gurpreet Singh and Dipenderjeet; Australia-based Gurjant Singh Dhillon; Pakistan-based Wadhawa Singh Babbar and UAE-based Jasmeet Singh Hakimzada.
Sources said the strained relations between New Delhi and Ottawa over Nijjar’s killing were also partially linked to the possibility of alleged illegal surveillance of officials of the Indian High Commission by the Canadian authorities or by agencies from another Five-Eye nation. The use of unauthorised equipment like international mobile subscriber identity-catcher (IMSI-catcher) and cell-site simulators to eavesdrop on Indian officials’ conversations on mobile phones is also being suspected.
An IMSI-catcher works like a “fake” mobile tower acting between the target mobile phone and the service provider’s real towers, it is considered a man-in-the-middle (MITM) technology. Body-worn IMSI-catchers that target nearby mobile phones are also used by some law enforcement agencies. Apart from Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar’s assertion that it is not the Indian government’s policy to carry out transnational killings, sources point towards ISI agents Rao and Kiyani as the real culprits behind Nijjar’s killing.
The Indian government has dismissed Trudeau’s claim of “credible evidence” as baseless and sought evidence from Ottawa but not much has been coming forth. Even Trudeau’s compatriot and premier of the province of British Columbia, David Eby, has accused the former of holding back information related to Nijjar’s killing.
Indian intelligence officials said in the backdrop of the Nijjar episode the message from the Ministry of Home Affairs to them was to go after pro-Khalistan and anti-India separatists within the country and abroad. “Though the immediate discussion is revolving around the activities of separatists and gangsters in Canada, we are preparing documents with regard to all such elements in different continents,” said an official.
Sources said the government was also planning to share with other countries the British model for reining in pro-Khalistani elements, wherein Tom Tugendhat, Minister of State for Security of the UK, has announced additional fund allocation of 95,000 pounds to enhance his government’s capabilities to understand the threat from Khalistani extremists and jointly tackle the problem with India. Since the escalation of the diplomatic row with Canada, India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) has detained several suspects linked to the network of “listed terrorist” Arsh Dalla and many dreaded gangsters and drug lords. NIA has also started confiscation of properties of anti-India elements like Pannun in Chandigarh and Amritsar. Nijjar’s properties are also likely to be confiscated soon.
A total of 53 locations were raided by NIA in its latest action that led to seizure of pistols, ammunition, large numbers of digital devices and incriminating material across six states of Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and the UT of Chandigarh.
Besides Arsh Dalla, others on the NIA scanner in these raids were notorious gangsters Lawrence Bishnoi, Sukha Duneke, Harry Maur, Narender alias Lali, Kala Jatheri and Deepak Tinu, among others.
These were the seventh in the series of such crackdowns launched by NIA following the registration of five cases since August 2022, including the two new cases registered against Organised Criminal Gangs in July 2023. The cases relate to conspiracies of targeted killings, terror funding of pro-Khalistan outfits and extortion by the gangsters, many of whom are lodged in various jails or are operating from various foreign countries, including Pakistan, Canada, Malaysia, Portugal and Australia.
The focus of NIA’s latest raids was on weapons suppliers, financiers and logistics providers associated with various hardcore gangs and their operatives. These gangs are working with drug smugglers and terrorists based out of other countries.
NIA investigations have revealed that the conspiracies under investigation were being hatched in jails of different states and were being executed by an organised network of operatives based abroad. Notable among such conspiracies were the sensational killing of Maharashtra builder Sanjay Biyani, mining trader Mehal Singh and international kabaddi player Sandeep Nangal Ambia in Punjab last year.