How Sikhs in Vienna blew cover of ‘pro-Khalistan’ Golden Temple ex-granthi, extradited from Austria

How Sikhs in Vienna blew cover of ‘pro-Khalistan’ Golden Temple ex-granthi, extradited from Austria

Bikramjit Singh had allegedly escaped to Austria in 2019, after being accused of being involved in an explosion in Amritsar’s Tarn Taran the same year. He was brought back by NIA last week.

File photo of Bikramjit Singh | By special arrangement

File photo of Bikramjit Singh | By special arrangement

New Delhi: Alleged pro-Khalistan operative, Bikramjit Singh, who was extradited from Austria last week, has been accused of radicalising the youth in local gurudwaras in Vienna and was turned in by Sikhs there, who found his activities “suspicious”, ThePrint has learnt.

Singh, a follower of Damdami Taksal — the India-based Sikh seminary which was once the nerve centre of anti-government extremism — had once worked as a granthi in Amritsar’s Golden Temple, said intelligence sources. The 30-year-old had allegedly formed a terror gang to carry out attacks in Punjab, the sources added.

“He not only instigated the youth to commit terrorist acts, but also conducted training for fabricating improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and using them. He was trying to do the same to expand his base in Austria, when he was arrested,” one of the sources, said.

Singh had allegedly escaped to Austria in 2019, after he was accused of being involved in an explosion in Amritsar’s Tarn Taran the same year, said the sources, adding that investigations had revealed the case to have links to Pakistan.

The former Golden Temple granthi was arrested in Austria in March last year and had been in detention since, sources in the National Investigation Agency (NIA) said.

He was brought back to India by a team from the NIA, after his extradition process — which took over two years — was completed, and Austria’s Linz Regional Court passed an order for the same, sources added.

“The Austrian government had kept a close watch on his activities. The NIA too kept pursuing this case and shared information with the counterparts and finally secured the extradition,” said the source quoted above.

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‘Wanted to target Dera Muradpura’

On 5 September 2019, there was an explosion at a vacant plot on the outskirts of Pandori Gola village in Tarn Taran, which killed two men and grievously injuring a third. Four men, identified by police as Harjit, Gurjant, Vikram, and Harpreet, were allegedly digging a pit to retrieve concealed explosives, when they went off.

Punjab Police had arrested eight members of Singh’s group and claimed the group had also attempted terror attacks in the past and Tarn Taran was a preparation for another such.

The case was re-registered by the NIA in September that year, in view of its “national and international ramifications”, and suspected links of the accused to Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), a US-based pro-Khalistan secessionist group, said NIA sources.

According to a chargesheet filed by the NIA in the case in 2020, the accused in the Tarn Taran case, including Singh, had planned to target a dera at Muradpura and had also held a series of secret meetings to decide the date of the attack.

During investigation NIA also claimed to have found that Singh along with his associates carried out “secessionist activities” by contacting and brainwashing the youth over social media. He also had contacts in local gurudwaras in Amritsar, where he often met the youth to float the idea of “secession of Punjab from India” and for them to join him in the cause, sources in NIA claimed.

“Not just gurudwaras, he also used to go around in processions (taken out by Sikhs) to look for targets. During various processions, agitations, Singh carried bombs and instigated other participants to attack government agencies to strike terror in the population at large,” said the source quoted above.

He added: “Our investigation in the case also revealed that he and his associates had planned to target high political dignitaries, preachers, policemen and local leaders by making crude bombs. He was trained in making IEDs and also trained others in it.”

According to an officer in Punjab police, Singh would source material for his explosives from near Haqima gate and Lohgarh areas of  Amritsar’s Old City.

“He had successfully radicalised most of the module members (members of his group) at a religious place during the Ghallughara week (an event organised in memory of a historical Sikh massacre), which was observed in the first week of June, 2016, and thereafter. He had also imparted training in IED manufacturing to radicalised module members at his home in Panjwar village,” the officer claimed.

He added: “After radicalising and motivating them, he would impart training in making IEDs, sourcing low-grade explosives and supplying IEDs to important module members.”

While those apprehended in the case were identified as Harjit Singh, Manpreet Singh Mann, Chandeep Singh Khalsa, Malkiat Singh, Maandeep Singh, Amritpal Singh, Amarjit Singh and Gurjant Singh, the ones who escaped included Gurpreet Singh and Gurwinder Singh, both said to be in California, Sodhi Singh, said to be in Armenia and Bikramjit Singh, who has now been brought back to India by the NIA.

‘Links to Pakistan’

According to sources in Punjab Police, strong links between the Tarn Taran case and Pakistan had emerged during investigations.

“Investigations have revealed strong links of the module members with Pakistan and SFJ. One of the accused, Chandeep Singh, was found to be in regular touch with a Pakistan-based man (identified by police as Usman), who had earlier contacted him on Facebook in 2018,” said the Punjab Police officer.

“Usman used to send Chandeep Whatsapp messages on Khalistan and also on abrogation of Article 370 (in Kashmir) by the Indian government. He then used to motivate Gabbar Singh (alias for Chandeep) to work for the establishment of a separate state of Khalistan and unite with Kashmiri jehadis. Several Pakistani numbers have also been found in Chandeep’s contact list,” the officer alleged.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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