The NIA, in its chargesheet, has accused two sharpshooters, multiple NRIs operatives of the KLF, as well as British national Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi.
Mohali (Punjab): The National Investigative Agency (NIA) Friday filed its first chargesheet against 15 accused in the special court here for killing Ludhiana-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh activist Ravinder Gosain.
The chargesheet blamed the senior leadership of the Khalistan Liberation Force (KLF), a Sikh militant group operating from Pakistan, the United Kingdom and Italy, for the cold-blooded murder.
The killing, according to the NIA, was a “terrorist act” executed locally by Italy-based NRI Hardeep Singh and Ludhiana resident Ramandeep Singh. Both were allegedly radicalised and trained by senior KLF members between 2013 and 2016, before they carried out a spate of eight murders in Punjab.
Their targets were “persons belonging to specific communities. The objective of the conspiracy was to destabilise the law and order situation in Punjab and to revive the fledgling terrorism in the state”, stated the chargesheet, accessed by ThePrint.
Apart from the two alleged sharpshooters, the NIA has charged KLF operatives Gursharanbir Singh (based in the UK), Harmeet Singh alias PhD (based in Pakistan, backed by the ISI) and Gurjinder Singh alias Shastri (based in Italy). The NIA had also charged KLF ‘chief’ Harminder Singh Mintoo, but abated proceedings against him after his death due to a heart attack while lodged in a jail in Patiala on 18 April.
The Johal connection
The NIA has also declared that UK national Jagtar Singh Johal alias Jaggi is an active member of KLF and was involved in funding the crimes. Johal’s cousin, Taljeet Singh alias Jimmy, a UK-based NRI from Jammu, has however been discharged by the NIA in this case.
The Punjab Police, which had initially investigated the cases, had claimed Jimmy’s arrest from New Delhi airport on his arrival from UK on 31 October 2017 as the first big breakthrough in case.
Gosain’s murder on the morning of 17 October outside his house in Ludhiana, minutes after he had returned from attending a shakha, was one of seven similar incidents that had the Punjab Police in a tizzy since January 2016. The victims were right-wing Hindus, a Christian pastor, and a father-son duo, followers of the Hisar-based Dera Sacha Sauda. All the killings were carried out by two masked men on a motorcycle, using similar weapons.
When the state police finally cracked these cases in November 2017, the two masked men were identified as Hardeep and Ramandeep. Jaggi was arrested while he was in India for his wedding on information provided by Jimmy.
Johal ran two websites – neverforget84.com and 1984tribute.com – and his arrest caused a furore back home in the UK, where Sikh bodies supported by local politicians organised a massive protest campaign, which later spread to Canada and the US. His family and supporters alleged that he had been falsely implicated in the case.
The NIA has also charged gangster Dharminder Singh alias Gugni for supplying weapons for the killings, besides eight others for assisting the alleged killers in procuring weapons and funds.
How ‘revived’ KLF executed the plan
Since the cases had international links and ramifications, the NIA took over investigations into the seven cases from the Punjab Police in mid-November. The 2,000-page chargesheet submitted in the special NIA court in Mohali Friday is first in the series of chargesheets expected to be filed in the other six related cases.
The chargesheet recounted a chilling tale of the planning and execution of these killings by the KLF. The NIA said the KLF was ‘revived’ by Harminder Singh Mintoo in 2010 with the help of Gursharanbir and his brother Amritveer, and Harmeet and Gurjinder.
“The leadership of the KLF believes that they can revive the moribund Khalistan movement by targeting members of specific communities, so as to polarise the society in Punjab on communal lines. Organisations and persons, who according to the leadership of the KLF oppose the ideology of the late Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale are their prime targets for elimination,” stated the chargesheet (Page 25).
Giving details of the pre-incident planning of the conspiracy, the chargesheet said that a young Hardeep Singh, who had been adopted by his father’s elder brother Daljit Singh, was living in Italy when he was radicalised and motivated by Mintoo to carry out cold-blooded killings for the cause of Khalistan.
“In June 2013, Mintoo came to stay in Daljit Singh’s house and interacted closely with Hardeep. He saw in him a potential recruit of the KLF and started motivating him towards that end. Mintoo convinced the impressionable Hardeep the need to commit violence in the name of Khalistan”. (17.32 &17.33, Page 30)
Jagtar Singh Johal
“During his stay at Daljit’s house, Gurjinder, Mintoo and Hardeep took a tour to France and Germany by road. When they were in Paris, Mintoo and Gurjinder met Jagtar Singh Johal, who had arrived from UK. Johal, a UK national, had been sent to France from UK by Gursharanbir to deliver 3000 GBP (British pounds) to Mintoo. A part of this money was given by Mintoo to Hardeep to join KLF to execute the conspiracy.” (17.34, Page 30)
“It has been established that Johal is a close confidant of Harmeet and Gursharanbir. The statement of witnesses has established that Johal is a member of the KLF and that he actively participated and had complete knowledge of the conspiracy.” (17.35, Page 30)
Harmeet takes over
“Before leaving Daljit’s house, Mintoo shared a skype ID billoobakra with Hardeep for maintaining contact with him. Mintoo was arrested by Indian authorities in November 2014 after which when Hardeep called on the skype ID, it was answered by Harmeet.” (17.36, Page 30)
Harmeet stepped in and arranged for Hardeep’s “training” in Italy. “After being mentally and tactically brainwashed into carrying out the killings, Hardeep came to India and along with Ramandeep carried out the first incident on 18 January 2016.” Hardeep took up work as a farm hand in Italy and travelled back and forth for the killings. (17.41, Page 32)
Ramandeep worked as a sewing machine mechanic in hosiery and apparel hub Ludhiana. He was spotted by Harmeet on Facebook and started interacting with him through a messaging app. “Harmeet encouraged Ramandeep to imbibe a religiously radical worldview,” noted the chargesheet. (17.42, Page 33)
In January 2015, Harmeet asked Ramandeep to travel to Dubai, where he met Gursharanbir, who trained him for the “forthcoming mission”. “Towards the end of their stay in Dubai, Gursharanbir arranged for Ramandeep to visit the shooting club in Sharjah, UAE, to practice shooting. He returned from Dubai in April 2015.” (17.46, Page 34)
Since the two alleged sharpshooters were trained not to maintain any contact with one another, even on social media, and meet only on the day of the killing, coordination between the two was done by Harmeet through the Signal messenger app. He arranged meetings between the two, supplied funds, and selected and approved targets.
“The pre-incident conspiracy was a well thought out and patiently executed project which had been in the works for about two and half years before the first incident was executed. The expansive timeline implies that the conspiracy was not hastily put together. Every aspect was meticulously thought through and executed.” (17.58, Page 38)
Funding and weapons
The chargesheet stated that the two alleged killers received lakhs of rupees from the UK, Australia and Italy while they were carrying out the executions in Punjab. The funds were received through bank transfers, money transfer services, as also hawala transactions.
Hardeep maintained a lavish lifestyle while Ramandeep, who earned Rs 25,000 per month, maintained a lifestyle far beyond his means. The NIA found that the two received funds just before they purchased weapons to carry out the killings. While Hardeep purchased five weapons from Meerut in UP, Ramandeep bought another five from Gugni.
The 15 accused have been charged under Sections 302 (murder), 34 (common intention), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), and sections of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and Arms Act.
The NIA also moved an application in the court to declare Harmeet, Gurjinder, Gursharanbir and one Gurjant Singh (a Khalistani suspected to be in UK) as ‘proclaimed offenders’. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 22 May.
Allegations of the defence
Alleging that the chargesheet was an “imaginative story” cooked up by the NIA, advocate Jaspal Singh Manjhpur, who is representing the accused, said: “First, KLF is not an organisation that invites provisions of the UAPA. Second, out of the 174 witnesses listed by the NIA, 27 have been listed as ‘protected’.
“How can the NIA withhold this information without the orders of the court? We suspect that these would be ‘stock witnesses’ of the NIA, because of which their names have not been revealed.”