NEW DELHI: The killing of terrorist Nijjar was either a revenge killing to avenge the death of Ripudaman Malik or a result of faction fights between various violent groups active in Canada.

Officials tracking developments related to Khalistani groups active in Canada and the political support that they have been getting from the Justin Trudeau government, believe that by attempting to pin the killing of wanted Khalistani terrorist and chief of Khalistan Tiger Force Hardeep Singh Nijjar on India, Ottawa was trying to absolve Nijjar from the killing of Ripudaman Singh Malik.

Malik, a Sikh activist acquitted in the 1985 Air India Kanishka terror bombing, was killed by gunmen on 15 July 2022, in Surrey, Canada. Just six months before his killing, Malik had written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi thanking him for the number of steps his government had taken for the benefit of the Sikh community. He had expressed his “deep heartfelt gratitude” for the unprecedented positive steps.

After he was killed, the Canadian officials arrested two individuals—21-year-old Tanner Fox and 23-year-old Jose Lopez—on 27 July 2022 for their involvement in the murder of Malik.

Later, Fox was again arrested in May 2023 for killing another Canadian citizen. In July 2020, Fox had stabbed a 17-year-old male in a road rage incident.

However, the Canadian police closed the investigation in the Malik case soon after without revealing “why” Malik was killed and “what” Fox’s motive was in killing Malik.

Official sources believe that these two hitmen were working on the orders of Nijjar and eliminated Malik because he was seen as “pro-India” and was emerging as a credible and liberal face of the Canadian Sikh community that was against the patronage that the Trudeau government was giving to the Khalistani groups led by Nijjar. Or he was murdered for his past Khalistani links, and the ongoing factional war to take control over the rich and resourceful Sikh community entities in Canada. The Sikh organization active in Canada collects huge grants in the form of donations and a large part of this money is spent in funding election campaigns.

A prominent lead that Canadian officials were provided for the possible reason behind the killing of Malik was that he and one of his associates Balwant Singh Bhandher had arranged to have the “Guru Granth Sahib”—the Sikh holy book—printed outside of India without obtaining permission from the Akal Takht, the religion’s highest authority. However this lead was never seriously investigated.

The subsequent killing of Nijjar, officials believe was either a revenge killing to avenge the death of Malik or a result of factional fights between the various violent groups active in Canada.

Official sources told The Sunday Guardian that one of the four arrested youths in the killing of Nijjar is the 22-year-old Kamalpreet Singh, son of Satnam Singh Bagri, a resident of Chakkalan village, Nakodar block, Jalandhar, Punjab.

What is not known to many is that Chakkalan is also the native village of Maninder Boyal (spokesman of the Sikh Gurdwara Council in Canada) and a close associate of Nijjar. More interestingly, it is also the village of Ajaib Singh Bagri, who is a close associate of Ripudaman Singh Malik.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to the lawyer of one of the accused arrested in the case for a response but none was shared.

Was the killing of Nijjar related to the enmity that developed between the two families back in Chakkalan after the killing of Malik is something that the Canada has failed to address as, officials said, it had decided to implicate the Indian government for Nijjar’s murder much before the investigation in the case had begun.

In fact, just minutes after Nijjar was killed, two media personalities, with known Khalistani links, put out statements and contents blaming India for the killing of Nijjar.

All the four arrested accused appeared in front of a court in Surrey on 21 May. The next hearing has been scheduled for 25 June and it is expected that more details of this whole conspiracy will be revealed in the coming days.

The radical, vocal Khalistani supporters present in Canada are considered as the deciding factor in many electoral seats in Canada and hence very few political groups and entities have traditionally gone against them. Out of the 388 seats in Canada, at least 25 are decided by Sikh voters.

Trudeau, though, is now seen as someone who is openly supporting these groups in lieu of their vote bank, a dangerous political maneuver that is hidden behind what officials call the “façade” of smooth talk and graceful conduct. When Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister for the first time in 2015, he picked four ministers from the Sikh community—the highest representation of the community at federal level.

Earlier last week, Canadian state media reported that Hardeep Malik, the Surrey-based son of Ripudaman Malik was officially warned by the Canadian police that his life could be under threat.

The report, which was described as a “Canada-backed misinformation campaign” by a top intelligence source in Delhi, insinuated that India was behind the killing of Malik and thereby taking away the focus from Nijjar and his handlers for arranging the killing of Malik.

The Sunday Guardian reached out to Hardeep Malik, but the calls and messages elicited no response.

Officials in Delhi believe that Ottawa is right now helpless to carry out a free and fair probe against the Khalistani groups and wanted gangsters operating from Canada because of political and electoral compulsions. The situation is likely to remain the same either till October 2025 when Canada votes to elect new representatives or these Khalistani groups and gangsters start attacking those very hands that are protecting them.

Recently, Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar, minced no words while calling out Canada’s effort to emerge as a haven for criminals and gangsters.

“The fact is that a number of gangland people, a number of people with organised crime links from Punjab have been made welcome in Canada. We have been telling Canada saying look these are wanted criminals from India, you have given them visas. Our biggest problem right now is in Canada. Because in Canada, actually, today the party in power in Canada, and other parties in Canada have given these kinds of extremism, separatism, and advocates of violence a certain legitimacy in the name of free speech. See, when you tell them something, their answer is ‘no-no’ we are a democratic country but it is free speech,” Jaishankar said drawing parallels with the modus-operandi that till now has been associated with Pakistan, where many individuals with organised crime links go on false documentation and are allowed to live there, including Dawood Ibrahim.

(With reporting by Sunday Guardian Live)