Tue. Jun 25th, 2024

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Investigations into the nexus of pro-Khalistani elements (PKEs) and gangsters-smugglers based in several north-Indian cities and those hiding in countries such as Canada, the US, the UK, Germany, Thailand, Philippines and Australia, have so far revealed that they feed into each other.

 (Representative Image)
(Representative Image)

How it started:

This nexus is said to have been born after two particular incidents: The Bargari agitation in 2015 and Nabha jailbreak in 2016. These two incidents were the first instances to suggest that north India-based gangsters and Khalistanis, who reports said already had an alliance with Pakistani elements, came together to form a network which had plans to carry out high-profile killings, smuggle drugs and arms and create problems for the Indian security establishment.

Slain Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar , who was shot dead on June 18, other Canada based gangsters-turned-Khalistanis like Lakhbir Singh Landa, Arshdeep Singh alias Arsh Dalla, Satwinderjeet Singh alias Goldy Brar, and Pakistan based Harwinder Singh Rinda and Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) leadership worked with gangsters in India such as Lawrence Bishnoi.

The gangs in India further collaborated with smaller gangs. Bishnoi, security officials say, is a key figure at the centre of this nexus among north India-based gangsters and runs the largest criminal network of around 700 members in the syndicate.

“The Bargari Morcha (agitation) which started after the sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in Faridkot in (October) 2015 and subsequent police action on agitators provided a public space to radical extremists. Many Sikh radicals held a protest in Bargari with the support of pro-Khalistani elements (PKEs) based abroad, in guise of ‘Kaum Vaaste Kamm’ (task in the name of religion). The PKEs used this opportunity and started their nefarious activities to disturb the hard-earned peace and unity in the state,” NIA said in its charge sheet filed in March, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.

“These PKEs started identifying and executing killings in the garb of ‘Kaum de Dushman’ (enemies of the religion). Radicalising innocent people, they started using the large pool of people gathered at Bargari Morcha and such other options, across the state, for terror activities. It has been revealed in numerous investigations that most of these accused were radicalised after the incident,” the charge sheet said, adding that the PKEs, however, faced a major problem as they didn’t have foot-soldiers who were ready to execute the killings on the directions of terror groups based abroad, and lacked logistical support in terms of supply of weapons, training, and access to vehicles and safe havens

This is where gangsters came handy.

The charge sheet mentions that Pakistan-based and now deceased chief of Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) Harmeet Singh alias PhD was first approached by a gangster Dharminder Singh alias Gugni (lodged in Ludhiana jail) seeking “weapons for the Kaum (religion)”.

Gugni, it added, provided weapons to Hardeep Singh alias Shera and Ramandeep Singh alias Canadian who embarked on a spree of targetted killings. Their victims included Brigadier (retd) Jagdish Gagneja (vice president of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Punjab), Shiv Sena leaders Durga Das Gupta and Amit Sharma, RSS leader Ravinder Gosain, and a few Dera Sacha Sauda followers.

Detailing how gangs such as that of Bishnoi came handy, a senior official, who didn’t want to be named, said Khalistanis needed experienced killers and shooters in India.

“This is where (the) Lawrence Bishnoi gang fitted into the scheme of things. His syndicate is spread across the states (and union territories) that include Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bihar and Jharkhand”.

Also Read: NIA raids in 53 places as part of terror-gangster crackdown

For gangs, the PKEs and terror groups provided an avenue to access sophisticated weapons, launder money, and settle members abroad “with the help of PKEs who are well settled in various countries across the world”, the officer said.

Gangsters turned Khalistan supporters Arsh Dalla, and others like Gaurav Patyal, Sukhdool Singh (killed in Canada last week) have their networks in Canada, USA, Europe, Middle East, Thailand, Dubai, and the Philippines while their jailed associates like Bhupi Rana, Sukhpreet Singh, Kaushal Choudhary, Amit Dagar etc have established their own control rooms abroad to increase their area of influence.

“The accused persons based abroad are operating the syndicates by using virtual mobile numbers to evade agencies whereas accused persons lodged in Indian jails are running syndicate operation through mobile phones,” says another NIA charge sheet filed in July.

Investigations have also revealed that Hardeep Singh Nijjar and Arshdeep Singh lured shooters to commit terror acts in return for arranging visas, splendid jobs, and handsome earnings for them in Canada.

Money

As reported by HT last week, the NIA probe into the financial activities of Canada-based top Khalistani leaders and gangsters has revealed that money generated in India through extortion and smuggling not only funds their violent acts, both in India and Canada, but it is invested in yachts, movies and even the Canadian Premier League.

Besides, the money generated by the gangsters was invested in clubs and bars in Thailand as well.

The agency has listed 13 instances from 2019 to 2021 when amounts ranging from 5 lakh to 60 lakh was sent by gangster Lawrence Bishnoi to Canada and Thailand using the hawala route.

“…the money collected through extortion, illegal liquor, arms smuggling business etc was sent to Satinderjeet Singh alias Goldy Brar and one Satbir Singh alias Sam in Canada through hawala for further investment as well as for funding the radical activities of pro-Khalistan elements (PKEs),” says the NIA charge sheet, filed in March against 14 persons who are part of larger Khalistan-gangster nexus.

Besides, the money is sent to countries like Thailand and is invested in night clubs through their associates.

Targets and Weapons:

Dalla and Nijjar, according to investigators, provided details of targets, arranged weapons, sending terror funds through various MTSS channels and also raised funds through extortion to strengthen the terror activities of KTF.

With the help of Pakistan-based Khalistani leaders, small arms, explosives, assault rifles, drugs and money are dropped across Punjab using drones, which are then tracked and picked up by the associates of established gangsters and then the same are used for funding targetted killings.

Protests outside Indian missions/consulates abroad

A key facet of the nexus is Khalistani leaders based abroad who organise anti-India activities including violent protests, defacing of Indian high commissions and consulates and holding the so-called Khalistani referendum from foreign soil. Officials said gangsters who have turned Khalistanis, like Dalla and Landa, use their imported associates to assist PKEs in these activities.

The NIA is probing at least three cases related to attack on Indian high commission/consulate in the UK and the US and has already released photographs of 45 persons involved in the London attack in March this year. The Metropolitan police in London and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have been made aware of these activities but there has not been much action against these suspects.

Most of these protests are spearheaded by banned outfit Sikhs for Justice (SFJ) leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who also provides legal help of PKEs-gangsters in these countries. Pannun has, on several occasions, threatened to target Hindus in Canada and the UK.

Earlier this year, agencies found that Waris Punjab De leader Amritpal Singh, had close links with Pannun.

He has already been declared as an “individual terrorist” under fourth schedule of UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Amendment Act) and his properties in Punjab have been attached.

A chargesheet filed by the NIA in December 2020 against Pannun, UK based Paramjit Singh Pamma and Canada based Hardeep Singh Nijjar stated that SFJ, floated in the garb of ‘Human Rights advocacy group’ with its offices in various foreign countries like the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia etc, is a frontal organization of Khalistan terrorist outfits operating from foreign soils including Pakistan.

Cases

NIA, since August last year, has registered half a dozen cases linked to gangsters-PKEs nexus and raids have been carried out at over 370 locations in Delhi, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh etc for dismantle this entire network of Khalistanis, shooters, hawala operators, gang leaders and their accomplices. The police in these states too have also cracked down on the networks.

About three dozen people have been arrested, while five to six persons have been bought back through deportation or extradition from countries like Thailand, the UAE, and the Philippines in the last one year.

Interpol red notices have also been issued against against nine members who are located in Canada, Thailand, Australia and other countries and agencies are in regular touch with their counterparts in these countries.

New underworld:

In March this year, NIA said in a statement that this nexus of gangsters and PKEs and their links with the music industry, singers, kabaddi players and advocates, is working on the lines of the pre-1993 Mumbai blasts era when extensive linkages of the underworld with the business people and the film industry had surfaced.

“It was revealed during the investigation that most of the accused were, till recently, operating their own separate gangs involved in extortion rackets. They initially transformed into a gangsters’ syndicate to expand their area of influence in other states, but soon ended up in a deadly criminal-terror nexus after being exposed to exploitation by terrorist elements. Sophisticated weapons and availability of large pool of cheap shooters made the gangsters’ syndicate an attractive choice for terrorist outfits,” a NIA spokesperson said in a statement in March.

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