Temple leader who supported separate Sikh state is shot dead in Surrey, B.C.

Temple leader who supported separate Sikh state is shot dead in Surrey, B.C.

The president of a Sikh gurdwara who was accused of terrorism and conspiracy to murder in India has been shot dead outside his temple in Surrey, British Columbia.

The general secretary of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Society said Hardeep Singh Nijjar was alone in his pickup truck when he was attacked Sunday night as he was leaving the gurdwara’s parking lot.

Bhupinder Singh Hothi said Nijjar had received death threats because of his support for a separate Sikh state of Khalistan, in India, but the shooting will not deter those who share his beliefs.

Surrey RCMP said in a news release that the shooting happened at about 8:30 p.m. and the victim died at the scene.

They said they are searching for suspects and trying to confirm a motive for the homicide.

The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team called a news conference for Monday afternoon in Surrey to provide further information about the case.

A video posted on Twitter about 90 minutes after the shooting showed a large crowd gathered outside the gurdwara, the scene illuminated by the flashing lights of police cars.

Some in the crowd chanted in Punjabi, “Long live Khalistan,” “We want a separate Khalistan,” and “Death to India,” as RCMP officers looked on.

A video also circulating on social media shows a person slumped over in the driver’s seat of a grey pickup truck, the windows shattered. Another video of the same scene from a different angle shows the vehicle surrounded by police cars, at what appears to be the entrance to the gurdwara’s parking lot.

Hothi said he did not know why Nijjar was shot, but he had previously been threatened over his Khalistan advocacy. “He was raising his voice for his homeland.”

In India, Nijjar was accused of terrorism-related offences and insurrection.

India’s National Investigation Agency last year issued a charge sheet that accused Nijjar of conspiring to murder Hindu priest Kamaldeep Sharma, who the agency said was killed by a “terror gang” in a village in Jalandhar, Punjab.

In a video posted by the gurdwara on its Facebook page, an unidentified man says in Punjabi that Nijjar was “martyred.”

“Nijjar was silenced but his voice will live forever. We will become his voice,” the man says.

There was a heavy police presence outside the temple on Monday, including an RCMP mobile command vehicle. A steady stream of Sikh community members arrived at the temple but they declined to speak to reporters.

Police had taped off part of Guru Nanak Way, a private road leading into the parking lot. Several community members tried to get closer to the scene but were turned away by police.

The World Sikh Organization of Canada, a non-profit which says it advocates for the interests of Canadian Sikhs, issued a news release on Monday that called the killing an “assassination.”

It said the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and police “were aware of the threat to Nijjar as well as other Sikh activists in Canada.”

“The fact that he was assassinated in this manner is a failure of these bodies to provide protection to someone they knew would be targeted,” the organization’s president, Tejinder Singh Sidhu, said in the release.

He added: “The role of foreign interference from India must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible for this crime must be brought to justice.”

The news release said Nijjar denied being involved in any criminal activity.

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 19, 2023.

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