Video of Sikh Leader’s Killing Shows Coordinated Attack

REUTERS/Jennifer Gauthier
Demonstrators holding flags and signs protest outside India’s consulate, a week after Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau raised the prospect of New Delhi’s involvement in the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada September 25, 2023.

SURREY, British Columbia – At least six men and two vehicles were involved in the killing of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar outside his place of worship, according to video reviewed by The Washington Post and witness accounts, suggesting a larger and more organized operation than has previously been reported.

Members of the local Sikh community, meanwhile, say authorities have told them little about their investigation of the June 18 killing outside the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara here. They say police were slow to the scene, and disagreement between agencies caused further delay. Several business owners and residents near the gurdwara say investigators have not visited to ask questions or request security video.

In a bombshell announcement, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canada’s House of Commons last week that authorities were pursuing “credible allegations” that agents of the Indian government were involved in the killing. The allegations were based in part on information gathered by one of Canada’s partners in the intelligence-sharing Five Eyes alliance.

Nijjar, 45, the president of the gurdwara, was a leader in the Khalistan movement, which aims to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India. He had received death threats, his family said.

The Khalistan movement is outlawed in India; in July 2022, India’s National Investigation Agency accused him of conspiring to murder a Hindu priest in Punjab and labeled him a “fugitive terrorist.” But the government of Narendra Modi has rejected claims that it had any role in his death as “absurd.” New Delhi says Trudeau’s comments were intended to draw attention from what it says is the real problem: Canada harboring people that India views as terrorists.

Nijjar’s killing was captured by a gurdwara security camera. The video has been shared with investigators.

A 90-second recording of the video reviewed by The Post begins with Nijjar’s gray pickup truck pulling out of a parking space. A white sedan appears in an adjacent lot, pulls up and drives parallel to the truck.

The vehicles are initially separated by a walkway. When the truck speeds up, the sedan matches its pace. Then the truck merges into the sedan’s lane and for a moment they’re side-by-side.

As the vehicles approach the parking lot exit, the sedan pulls in front and brakes to block the truck.

Two men in hooded sweatshirts emerge from under a covered waiting area and move toward the truck. Each points a firearm at the driver’s seat. The sedan exits the parking lot and drives out of view. Then the two men run in the same direction.

Bhupinderjit Singh, a volunteer at the gurdwara, was playing soccer roughly 100 yards away in Kabbadi Park when he heard what he first believed were fireworks.

“My second thought was gunshots – and our president,” he said.

Singh was the first witness to reach Nijjar’s truck. He opened the driver’s side door, he said, and grabbed Nijjar’s shoulders. The gurdwara leader did not seem to be breathing.

Community members say investigators have told them that the assailants fired about 50 bullets. Thirty-four hit Nijjar.

“It was blood and shattered glass everywhere,” Singh said. “The ground was strewn with bullets.” Soon Gurmeet Singh Toor, another Gurdwara leader, pulled up in his pickup truck. Singh climbed in and they drove off in pursuit of the gunmen.

Malkit Singh, a Gurdwara committee member who was also playing soccer, saw two hooded men running toward neighboring Cougar Creek Park. He chased them through the park.

Malkit Singh said he did not recognize the men. He described them as wearing “a Sikh get-up,” with hoodies pulled over small pughs on their heads and masks over their “bearded faces.” One, just over five feet tall and heavyset, was struggling to run fast, Malkit Singh said. The other was about 4 inches taller and leaner.

The men ran out of the park to a cul-de-sac, he said, and got into a waiting silver car.

Three other men were waiting inside the silver car, he said. He couldn’t see their faces.

“One of the [running] men pointed his pistol at me right before getting into the car,” he said. “The smell of gunpowder in the air shocked me and reminded me how dangerous they were.” The five men drove off.

Malkit Singh’s phone rang. It was Bhupinderjit Singh, telling him that Nijjar was dead.

Toor, one of Nijjar’s closest friends, described the shock.

“They got inside our home and killed our leader,” he said.

Charanjeet Singh, the gurdwara’s caretaker, stayed with Nijjar’s body. He saw men he didn’t recognize recording videos of the scene. Within minutes, news of the killing was on social media.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said police received a first report of the shooting at 8:27 p.m.

Witnesses told The Post it took between 12 and 20 minutes after the gunshots for the first police officers to arrive. Members of the community described the interval as shocking, given what they say is the large number of police who regularly patrol the neighborhood.

Once officers did arrive, Bhupinderjit Singh said, “There was an hours-long tussle between Surrey police and the RCMP. They couldn’t decide who would head the investigation, so there was a delay.”

Asked about Bhupinderjit Singh’s claim, the Surrey Police Service directed The Post to the RCMP. Neither the RCMP nor its homicide investigation team responded to The Post’s questions.

On July 21, more than a month after the shooting, authorities asked the public for help identifying the two gunmen. On Aug. 16, they asked for help identifying a silver 2008 Toyota Camry and driver.

The Post visited 39 businesses and homes along the path the assailants took during their escape. The majority of those interviewed said they had not been contacted by the authorities.

Authorities have not publicly discussed the white sedan or who might have been driving it. Nor have they mentioned the two additional men Malkit Singh says he saw in the getaway car.

Community members say they’re most concerned that authorities did not offer Nijjar more protection before the killing, and that they’ve been given little information since.

“My father asked for increased police surveillance around the gurdwara so that the whole community could be safer,” said Balraj Singh Nijjar, Hardeep Singh Nijjar’s 21-year-old son. The police said they would look into it, he said, but to his knowledge, nothing was done.

Canadian authorities have drawn on human and signals intelligence to support their claims of Indian government involvement, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. has reported. That intelligence includes intercepted communications of Indian diplomats, some of them on Canadian soil.

The threats to Nijjar’s life were well known in the community. Some gurdwara members told The Post they worried when they saw him driving alone. His son said he wished he could have driven a bulletproof car, which is illegal in British Columbia, or worn a vest, for which a permit is required. Moninder Singh, the spokesman of the British Columbia Sikh Gurdwara Council, said Nijjar’s mechanic recently found a tracker in the wheel well of his truck.

Moninder Singh says federal authorities have told him that his name, like Nijjar’s, has appeared on a “hit list,” but neither was given more information. Moninder says he’s unsure whether the federal agencies have shared the information with local authorities.

A spokesman for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service said the agency could not comment on information sharing with authorities.

But with the prime minister now having weighed in, Malkit Singh said, he’s more confident of getting answers.

“Until Trudeau’s announcement last week I had zero percent faith that they would crack this case,” he said. “They interviewed me a total of one time, and they haven’t told us anything in months.

“But last week, things changed. If Trudeau has finally realized India is behind this, then the detectives must be doing something right.”