India’s anti-terror agency has raided 53 sites across seven states and union territories in a crackdown on what it says are “terrorists” and “gangsters,” some of whom it alleges have links to Sikh separatist groups.
The National Investigative Agency (NIA) said Wednesday it had seized pistols, ammunition and a large number of digital devices during the raids, and that among those it had detained were several people with suspected links to “pro-Khalistan” groups.
“Khalistan” is a reference to a separatist movement that seeks to create a homeland for Sikhs in the Punjab region of India.
News of the raid comes as India remains in a tense diplomatic standoff with Canada, following allegations by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that India may have been involved in the killing in British Columbia of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Sikh Canadian who was a vocal advocate of Khalistan.
India, which has strenuously denied Trudeau’s claims, has previously accused Nijjar of being a terrorist with links to the Khalistan movement and of “trying to radicalize the Sikh community across the world.”
But it has long accused multiple foreign countries of harboring what it describes as Sikh militants within their diaspora communities.
The NIA said Wednesday the latest raids “relate to conspiracies of targeted killings, terror funding of pro-Khalistan outfits, extortion, etc. by the gangsters, many of whom are lodged in various jails or are operating from various foreign countries, including Pakistan, Canada, Malaysia, Portugal and Australia.”
“Many of the criminals and gangsters who were earlier leading gangs in India have fled abroad in recent years and are now pursuing their terror and violence related activities from there, as per NIA investigations,” the statement said.
“These criminals have been engaged in planning and commissioning serious crimes, including contract and revenge killings, in association with criminals lodged in jails across India,” it added.
The operation spanned the states of Punjab, Harayana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand, and also included the union territories of Delhi and Chandigarh.
New Delhi has responded angrily to Trudeau’s claims and the deepening spat has seen both nations expel senior diplomats in reciprocal moves, raising the prospect of an awkward rift between key partners of the US.
Things escalated further when India suspended visa services for Canadian citizens over what it said were “security threats” against diplomats in Canada.
Though Modi is yet to speak publicly about the growing dispute, Indian authorities last week announced an “intensified crackdown” on what it says is a “Khalistani terrorist campaign.”
Last week, the NIA promised a cash reward for five individuals who they accuse of “spreading terror” in the state of Punjab.