A Sikh man accused of running a terror camp in British Columbia has written a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, defending himself against what he calls "fabricated, baseless, fictitious, and politically motivated allegations."
On Sunday, the Times of India reported that Indian intelligence agencies had warned the Trudeau government that Hardeep Singh Nijjar was training youths near Mission, BC to use AK-47s and carry out attacks in India.
The federal government wouldn't confirm or deny the story and local leaders in BC questioned its veracity, yet it's gained major traction, with tens of media outlets in India and in Canada picking it up.
In a letter to Trudeau released Wednesday evening, the father of two who runs a small plumbing business, identified himself as a Sikh nationalist and admitted to being involved in campaigning against human rights violations against Sikhs in India, but denied supporting any violent activity in the name of the cause.
"It's my belief that I have become a target of an Indian government media campaign to label my human rights campaign as 'terrorist activities.'".
The photo that's been running in the media, he wrote, has been altered to include a weapon. According to Nijjar, the Indian government had attempted to slap him with the terrorist label previously by claiming he was transporting ammunition by paragliding — that accusation, he wrote, was "absolutely preposterous on the face and is more like a bad Bollywood movie plot."
Nijjar, whose role was allegedly to "arrange weapons from Pakistan," has not responded to multiple requests for comment from VICE News. The Times also reported that he's wanted in Punjab for a 2007 explosion at a cinema in Ludhiana, which left 6 people dead, but the lawyer who defended the accused in that case told VICE News his name wasn't mentioned once.
According to a warrant issued in 2014, posted on India's Central Intelligence Bureau website and Interpol's Red Notice section, Nijjar is wanted for attempting to cause an explosion, making or keeping explosives with intent to endanger life or property, and making or possessing explosives under suspicious circumstances.
By placing his name on the Interpol's wanted list, India "blatantly abused its governmental authority," Nijjar wrote, pointing out that he'd never been investigated, charged or convicted of any crime.
Nijjar, who has lived in Canada since 1997, said the campaign against him began in 2012 when he collected 20,000 signatures in BC, calling on the UN's Human Rights Council to investigate and recognize the 1984 period of anti-Sikh violence in India as genocide.
An anonymous tip to Punjab police appears to have triggered an investigation into him and one other Canadian — it alleged that they were working to funnel money into an extremist organization in India.
In that complaint, detailed in a First Information Report filed by a police officer in Punjab's Ludhiana district, Nijjar is accused of being the leader of the pro-Khalistani group Babbar Khalsa International (BKI). It said he'd been working with Mandeep Singh, another Canadian resident who was visiting Punjab, to revive BKI by injecting funds into the organization.
The FIR was uploaded to Facebook by Jaspal Singh Manjpur, a lawyer who frequently speaks out for and defends Sikh political prisoners, and is representing Mandeep Singh.
Singh was in Punjab "for his marriage," Manjhpur said. No charges have been laid against him, but he'll be in police custody until June 4.
"Till date, nothing incriminating recovered from him, only there are phone calls from his alleged mobile number to Pakistan and Canada." said Manjhpur. "There is nothing truth in Times of India story."
The allegations in the FIR differ from those reported by the Times of India, which relied on a report prepared by Indian intelligence officials that named Nijjar as the head of another extremist organization — the Khalistan Terror Force (KTF) — and Singh was one of the men he'd trained in his BC "terror camp," the report said, according to the Times.
The link between the two men and the fact that they're Canadian are common threads.
Singh was arrested from his village last Wednesday, the same day the FIR was filed, accused of being in touch with BKI members in Canada and of planning something in Punjab, Manjhpur said in a brief phone interview.
Meanwhile, according to the Times of India, the intelligence report had been submitted to India's ministry of external affairs and ministry of home affairs in an effort to have Nijjar extradited.
'It's my belief that I have become a target of an Indian government media campaign to label my human rights campaign as 'terrorist activities.''
"Nijjar has been imparting arms training to his group in Canada after the arrest of former KTF chief Jagtar Tara in Thailand by Interpol last year," said the report, according to the Times, adding that he took four Sikh youths for "AK-47 training near Mission where they were made to fire for four hours daily."
He and Singh made frequent trips to Pakistan for arms training, the report said, and Singh arrived in India in January, with planned targets including cops and leaders of the political party Shiv Sena leaders. During his trip, he was in constant contact with Nijjar, his boss, the Times reported.
The FIR, prepared by police in India when they receive information on a cognizable offence said Singh, a member of BKI, has been living in Canada for 13 years, but visits his home village of Chak Kalan every year. As of last week, he'd been there four to five months, the complaint said. He'd allegedly been sent by Nijjar to "re-activate [BKI members] to carry out extremist activities."
Nijjar, along with his accomplices, supplied funds for Singh from foreign countries, the FIR said, claiming that the funds, sent through illegal means, were also passed on to people with associations with extremist groups.
The story has raised eyebrows in the city of Mission itself, from politicians and religious leaders.
Mayor Randy Hawes said there is an area close to the city called Hatzic Prarie, where locals will sometimes go to shoot guns, but highly doubts the existence of a terror camp.
"The Sikh temple in Mission agrees with me it's a very tight-knit community, very moderate, and if such a thing was going on, they'd know about it and they wouldn't stand for it," he said. "Frankly, I don't give any credence to this at all."
The Canadian government, meanwhile, has refused to confirm or deny the report.
"While we do not comment on allegations, specific threats, or operations related to national security, we can say that the Government of Canada monitors all potential threats and has robust measures in place to address them," said a statement from a spokesperson from Public Safety Canada.
"Canada's security and law enforcement agencies work closely with allies and key partners. When the security and intelligence community receives credible warnings about a specific threat, they work with the appropriate partners to appropriately respond to the threat."
Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk