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A member of a Sikh organization holds a placard displaying Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in Amritsar on September 22, 2023.NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images

Three Indian men living in Edmonton have been arrested and charged with the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a B.C. Sikh separatist leader whose death last year was linked to the Indian government by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

RCMP Assistant Commissioner David Teboul affirmed Friday the force’s probe included “investigating connections to the government of India.” He said there are numerous cases still open and they are “certainly not limited to the involvement of the people arrested today.”

The killing became a full-blown diplomatic row last September after Mr. Trudeau told the House of Commons that Canadian security agencies were probing allegations that the Indian government had played a role in the slaying of Mr. Nijjar.

He told MPs that he had personally presented his concerns about these allegations to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In November, U.S. authorities said an Indian government official had directed a plot in the attempted murder of Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, a Sikh separatist and dual citizen of the United States and Canada.

On Friday, RCMP took pains to thank members of the Sikh community in Surrey, particularly the leadership of the Guru Nanak temple.

“The murder of Mr. Nijjar at the Scott Road gurdwara was outrageous and it was reprehensible,” said Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards.

“It had a profound impact on the residents of Surrey and notwithstanding today the announcing of charges, those scars will remain in our community for some time.”

Mr. Nijjar was ambushed as he exited the parking lot at the Guru Nanak temple in Surrey last June 18, Father’s Day. He was heading home for a late dinner with his wife and sons.

Moninder Singh is a spokesperson for the B.C. Gurdwara Council and was a close friend of Mr. Nijjar. Both were among five men warned by the RCMP’s national security division in August 2022 that their lives were in danger. Mr. Singh took part in an emotional briefing with Mounties and Mr. Nijjar’s family on Friday morning.

He said news of the arrests brings some measure of relief, but noted the case is still open and that eyewitnesses saw at least five men in the getaway car on the day of the murder.

Mr. Singh also alleged India still poses a credible threat to activists in the Sikh diaspora. He said the community is keen to understand any potential links the charges Friday have to the Modi government.

“It has to do with India’s involvement in this, how these individuals utilized their potential criminal ties back in India, how they got into the country – all of those are questions that are outstanding for all of us right now,” he told reporters outside the RCMP press conference.

Mr. Pannun, who lives in New York, said the arrest “only scratches the surface.” He called on Canada to charge high-ranking Indian diplomats.

RCMP officials say the three arrested are not residents of Canada and were not known to police. They say further charges are possible.

Court documents show Karanpreet Singh, 28, Kamalpreet Singh, 22, and Karan Brar, 22, have been charged with first-degree murder for a killing that they are alleged to have started plotting in Edmonton and Surrey in May 2023. All three are also charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

The trio had been living in Canada for three to five years, RCMP said, and the investigation that led to their charges included RCMP from Alberta, British Columbia and one other province the force would not name.

Indian High Commissioner Sanjay Kumar Verma said he would not comment on “arrests made for crimes committed in Canada,” calling “this an internal matter for Canada.”

Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Saturday that he had seen news of the arrests and said the suspects “apparently are Indians of some kind of gang background... we’ll have to wait for the police to tell us.”

India considers Mr. Nijjar a terrorist and had him listed among the country’s most wanted.

When asked how the RCMP would characterize investigators’ interaction with Indian officials in Canada, Assistant Commissioner Teboul described it as “challenging and difficult.”

Mr. Nijjar was involved in a campaign aimed at the creation of a Sikh state carved from India. His group, Sikhs for Justice, has been holding referendums – non-binding votes – at Sikh temples across Canada, Britain, Australia and the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Sikhs have participated.

Prabjot Singh, a member of the executive council at Guru Nanak, accused the Indian government of being willing to use organized crime groups as proxies in its fight to silence political dissidents abroad.

“This [Mr. Nijjar’s murder] is very clearly a part of a much larger conspiracy and this is an initial step in advancing this investigation and unravelling all the different component parts,” Mr. Singh told reporters.

News of the arrests arrived on the same day that a commission of inquiry into foreign interference in Canada released its report after months of testimony. In her report, Justice Marie-Josée Hogue said Indian officials, including Canada-based proxies, seek to influence Canadian communities and politicians.

These activities include efforts to align Canada’s position with India’s interest in key areas, particularly on the issue of an independent Sikh homeland in the Indian state of Punjab, she said.

While she made no mention of the murder of Mr. Nijjar, Justice Hogue said Indian officials rely on networks of proxies to “liaise and work with Indian intelligence officials in India and Canada, taking both explicit and implicit directions from them.”

With a report from Reuters.

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