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Police officers attend the scene of the shooting outside of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara Sahib temple, in Surrey, B.C., on June 19.Jennifer Gauthier/The Canadian Press

Hours before he was shot dead in the parking lot of the temple in Surrey, B.C., where he is president, Hardeep Singh Nijjar told gurdwara congregants that advocating for Sikh rights in the Indian state of Punjab was treacherous work.

“The coming time is very dangerous,” Mr. Nijjar said in Punjabi in a speech at the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara on Sunday afternoon.

Mr. Nijjar, who has been accused by India’s National Investigation Agency (NIA) of being a terrorist, had privately confided in friends that he had been alerted by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service that he was being targeted for violence. His lawyer confirmed CSIS’s warning in a statement Tuesday.

Just days before the 38th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of Air India, members of the temple are once again grieving violence and grappling with international intrigue. A continuing international referendum urging Sikhs around the world to vote for Punjab to secede from India and form the independent Khalistan – which Mr. Nijjar supported – has angered New Delhi. Still, posters around Surrey, which has a large Sikh population, encourage people to vote, even though the referendum will have no impact on the Indian government.

Mr. Nijjar’s death is the second in two years of a prominent member of the Sikh community in Canada: Last July, Ripudaman Singh Malik, one of two men acquitted in the 1985 Air India bombing, was also shot and killed in Surrey.

On Tuesday, more than a dozen people at the gurdwara spoke with The Globe and Mail, and while none wanted to be named, all believed the attack was inspired by the Indian state.

Mr. Nijjar was “fearless, caring, thoughtful. He was not scared of the Indian state. He knew he was a target. He refused to hide, or run away,” said Prabh Singh, a temple member.

“There is more rage in the community right now than fear.”

New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, who worked closely with Mr. Nijjar on the referendum, said in a statement Tuesday that he spoke with his friend by phone the day before he was killed. Both believed their work had put their safety at risk after the NIA, India’s counterterrorism body, last July offered a reward of one million rupees – worth about $16,000 – for information leading to Mr. Nijjar’s arrest or apprehension.

“Nijjar was neither involved in nor convicted for any criminal or violent activity ever, in fact, in 2016 Canadian law enforcement authorities after thorough investigation found no evidence supporting India’s allegations against Nijjar being involved in violent or criminal activities in India or elsewhere,” Mr. Pannun said in the statement.

The Globe e-mailed three officials at the Indian High Commission in Canada for comment but received no response.

Two temple officials who separately viewed security camera footage that captured the killing say Mr. Nijjar was killed in his truck. As he backed out, a second vehicle mirrored his movements, pulling in front of him. The vehicle seemed to stall as it exited the lot. As Mr. Nijjar sat waiting for his turn to exit, two armed men ran at his grey Dodge Ram and began shooting through the drivers’ window.

The Globe is not naming the officials because potential witnesses have been asked by police not to discuss what they saw with reporters.

Later footage viewed by The Globe shows Mr. Nijjar, wearing a blue striped dress shirt, slumped in his vehicle. The driver’s window is blown out. On the ground near the truck are 10 to 15 spent shells.

The temple officials said the shooting happened in full view of a group of young men playing soccer in the field behind the temple. Two to three of them chased after the shooters but backed off after the gunmen threatened to kill them.

Dave Hayer is a former Surrey Liberal MLA whose father, a Sikh journalist, was shot and left partly paralyzed in a 1988 shooting and then fatally shot in 1998 – a crime that remains unsolved. He said he knows nothing about Mr. Nijjar’s death but is worried the killing could prompt more violence.

“I don’t think this is the end of this,” Mr. Hayer said. “People are willing to settle scores in public by shooting” and that means “there might be other people who try to retaliate.”

Temple members described Mr. Nijjar, who held the job as the temple’s president for four years, as progressive. He led the campaign for a school and wedding hall, currently under construction, at the temple. They say he did not believe in violence and was appalled by the Air India bombing. Several students from India told The Globe that Mr. Nijjar was concerned for their welfare, helped them find jobs in the community and made sure they had enough to eat.

The husband and father of two grown sons in university, Mr. Nijjar participated in efforts to deliver goods to flood and fire victims in recent years, temple members said.

But Mr. Nijjar also attracted controversy in Canada. Court records show he and Mr. Malik were on opposite sides of a doctrinal dispute involving equipment used to print sacred Sikh texts. The filings in the case say the Sikh religion has put in place strict prohibitions against any unlicensed printing of its holy books and implements controls on who is allowed to do this job.

Court documents say that Mr. Malik was part of a Surrey organization known as the Satnam Parchar Religious Society that was allowed to print some scriptures. But in August, 2020, he was ordered by the highest authority in Sikhism – the Akhal Tahat – to hand over book-printing machinery to Mr. Nijjar’s temple.

Mr. Malik obliged the handover order before he died in 2022. But in February of this year, his son, lawyer Jaspreet Malik, launched a lawsuit on behalf of the Satnam Parchar society seeking the return of the equipment and naming Mr. Nijjar.

“On or about Nov. 14, 2020, the Akal Takhat directed Mr. Nijjar to return the property to the plaintiff,” the statement of claim says. “Mr. Nijjar failed to comply with the Akal Takhat’s direction.”

With a file from The Canadian Press

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