Canada-based chief of banned Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) Hardeep Singh Nijjar, one of India's most-wanted terrorists who carried a cash reward of Rs 10 lakh on his head, was shot dead outside a gurdwara in British Columbia, officials in New Delhi said on Monday.
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead by two unidentified assailants outside the premises of Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara, Surrey, in the western Canadian province at around 6 am IST Monday (20:30 hours on June 18, Sunday, Canadian time).
The gurdwara was being presided by Nijjar himself for the past four years, giving rise to speculation that funds from the shrine were being embezzled for funding terror activities in Punjab.
Nijjar was designated a 'terrorist' by India under the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act in July 2020 and his property in the country was attached by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in September 2020.
An Interpol Red Corner Notice was also issued against him in 2016. The local police of Surrey had also put Nijar under house arrest temporarily in 2018 on suspicion of his terror involvement but he was released later.
The killing is the latest instance of terror kingpins being targeted outside India.
In May, another wanted Khalistani terrorist Paramjit Singh Panjwar was shot dead by unidentified gunmen while he was out for a morning walk near his residence in Lahore, the provincial capital of Pakistan's Punjab province.
Panjwar, 63, was heading the Khalistan Commando Force-Panjwar group and was also designated as a terrorist by India under the UAPA in July 2020.
Nijjar, a native of village Bhar Singh Pura in Jalandhar, Punjab, had a long tryst with Khalistan militancy since migrating to Canada in 1995.
Initially an operative of Babbar Khalsa, he was involved in some of the most high-profile terror cases of the first decade of the millennium including the Shingar Cinema bomb blast (Ludhiana, 2007) and the assassination of Rashtriya Sikh Sangat President Rulda Singh (Patiala, 2009).
He was introduced to Pakistan-based fugitive KTF supremo Jagtar Singh Tara, now incarcerated in India, in 2011 and switched to the newly formed KTF.
He kept on meeting Tara in Pakistan in the annual jathas, during which he was allegedly trained in the fabrication of IEDs and handling of high-end guns.
Nijjar also funded Tara handsomely from Canada and financed his shifting of base from Pakistan to Thailand in 2014, officials said.
When Tara was facing deportation from Thailand in late 2014, Nijjar made frantic efforts to stop it, making multiple rounds of Thailand and Pakistan.
The next year, Nijjar trained three Sikh youths in handling AK-47 and Russian sniper guns in the hilly terrain of Mission City, British Columbia before sending them to India for targeting some senior police officials and popular Dera leaders, officials alleged.
After a hiatus of about half a decade, Nijjar again made headlines when his name surfaced in multiple terror cases in quick succession including the killing of Dera follower Manohar Lal Arora (November 2020) and former Sarpanch of village Udhampur (Ropar) Avtar Singh (December 2021) and attempted killing of Bhar Singh Pura village priest Pragya Gyan Muni (January 2021).
Nijjar was learnt to have formed an alliance with fellow Surrey-based Punjabi gangster Arshdeep Singh Gill alias Arsh Dala and of late delved into organised financial crimes both in Punjab and in Canada in order to finance his terror plans, they said.
This latest venture had reportedly made Nijjar a target of the warring criminal gangs operating in the Surrey-Delta area.
Since early 2019, Nijar was roped in by the US-based Sikhs For Justice (SFJ) leadership to steer its so-called 'Referendum 2020' campaign in Canada. Since then, Nijjar had remained a constant face at SFJ-sponsored demonstrations and car rallies in the Surrey-Vancouver area.
He was often seen desecrating the Indian national flag outside the Indian consulate of Vancouver on days of national significance to India. Nijjar also played a prominent role in the 'referendum voting' in Brampton and Mississauga (Ontario) last year, they said.
When his body was being moved from the scene by the Canadian police, a group of Sikhs raised pro-Khalistan and anti-India slogans, according to the officials.
A prominent pro-Khalistani activist Avtar Singh Purba alias Khanda, who was involved in the attack on the Indian high commission in London, died at a hospital in the city of Birmingham last week after a prolonged illness. The Sikh Federation UK said Avtar Singh was terminally ill with blood cancer.
Wanted in connection with the conspiracy to kill Sukhbir Singh Badal, president of Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal), former Punjab DGP Sumedh Singh Saini and senior advocate Rajwinder Singh Bains, Avtar Singh was allegedly involved in terrorist activities in the UK and had joined the banned Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF) remnants active in Britain and other countries.
In February this year, Bashir Ahmad Peer, a self-styled commander of the terror outfit Hizbul Mujahideen, was shot dead by unidentified assailants in Pakistan's Rawalpindi.
Also in the same month, former commander of Pakistan-based terror outfit Al Badr, Syed Khalid Raza, was killed in a similar manner outside his residence in Karachi while Kashmir-born terrorist Aijaz Ahmad Ahanger alias Abu Usman Al-Kashmiri, who had joined the Islamic State IS), was reportedly killed in Kunar province of Afghanistan.