An Indian Murder-for-Hire Plot

Happy Monday! They say crime doesn’t pay, but the Australian woman who stole a delivery van that—unbeknownst to her—was carrying 10,000 Krispy Kreme doughnuts may beg to differ. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu withdrew his country’s negotiators from Qatar on Saturday, saying efforts to reach an agreement to restart the ceasefire with Hamas in exchange for the release of the remaining 140 hostages were at an impasse. U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Sunday the U.S. is encouraging the two sides to come back to the table, but emphasized Hamas was to blame for the breakdown in talks after the terrorist organization refused to provide a list of the women and children still in captivity. Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intensified its attacks on southern Gaza over the weekend—the next phase of the invasion of the Strip—particularly in Khan Yunis, a city in the southern part of the territory. The IDF has begun warning civilians ahead of offensives via its Arabic-language spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, offering directions for evacuations along with maps of intended targets.   
  • Several U.S. executive branch agencies and the Israeli government issued a joint cybersecurity advisory on Friday, warning an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-affiliated hacking group—called ‘CyberAv3ngers’—is targeting Israeli-made industrial software in the U.S., including water pump systems and other “programmable logic controllers” in the “energy, food and beverage manufacturing and healthcare” industries. Last month, Iran-affiliated hackers breached the software that controls water pumps at a water utility in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area, forcing the utility to operate the pumps manually.
  • Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for four attacks on three separate commercial ships in the Red Sea on Sunday, according to U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM). The USS Carney, a Navy destroyer, came to the aid of the ships—several of which sustained damage from the Houthi missiles—and shot down three unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) headed in its direction, though CENTCOM did not confirm whether the Carney was the intended target. The attacks on the ships—one of which, according to Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, is in danger of sinking—occurred while they were in international waters. “We also have every reason to believe that these attacks, while launched by the Houthis in Yemen, are fully enabled by Iran,” CENTCOM wrote in a statement. “The United States will consider all appropriate responses in full coordination with its international allies and partners.”
  • Using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, South Korea on Friday launched its first spy satellite from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California, just a week after North Korea claimed it successfully launched its own reconnaissance satellite into orbit. The launch was the first of five satellites the country plans to launch before 2025 under its contract with SpaceX, which is owned by Elon Musk. 
  • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was victorious in three of four state elections Sunday—with a fifth state’s results forthcoming—strengthening Modi’s likelihood of success ahead of general elections expected in April of next year. BJP’s sweep of the populous and politically powerful “Northern Belt” states included flipping two states away from the main opposition party, the Indian National Congress. The Congress party was victorious only in Telangana, a smaller southern state.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency finalized a rule on Saturday that limits the amount of methane that can be released into the atmosphere by the oil and gas industry. The regulation—announced to coincide with the United Nations’ COP28 climate summit in Dubai—would require oil and gas companies to stop burning excess gas with flares and require regular inspections of facilities to verify any methane leaks have been plugged. If the rule survives the expected legal challenges, the requirements would be phased in over the next two years, and the Biden administration claims they would ultimately cut 58 million tons of methane emissions between 2024 to 2038.
  • The House voted 311 to 114 on Friday to expel GOP Rep. George Santos of New York from Congress, with 105 Republicans joining the overwhelming majority of Democrats to oust him—though the four highest-ranking Republican House members, including Speaker Mike Johnson, voted against expulsion. The vote—the second effort to expel Santos—followed both a federal indictment on fraud-related charges and a scathing House Ethics Committee report accusing Santos of misusing campaign funds on personal expenses and lying repeatedly. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul must now set the date of a special election to replace Santos. Only five representatives had previously been expelled from the lower chamber. 
  • In a 48-page opinion issued on Friday, Judge Tanya Chutkan—the federal judge overseeing former President Donald Trump’s election subversion trial in Washington, D.C.—refused to dismiss the four charges against Trump. Chutkan rejected the argument made by Trump’s lawyers that his efforts to overturn the 2020 election—including by petitioning state and local election officials—were a lawful exercise of his First Amendment rights. “[I]t is well established that the First Amendment does not protect speech that is used as an instrument of a crime,” she wrote. She also batted down the suggestion that Trump’s subsequent impeachment for the same activity in January 2021 renders special counsel Jack Smith’s charges legal double jeopardy. Trump will probably  appeal the opinion, setting up a likely delay in the trial and a potential ruling by the Supreme Court on the matter.
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, died on Friday at the age of 93. O’Connor was nominated to the bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, and stepped down in 2006 to care for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease. O’Connor herself died from “complications related to advanced dementia.” 

Making an International Murderer

Activists of the Dal Khalsa Sikh organisation, a pro-Khalistan group, stage a demonstration demanding justice for Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed in June 2023 near Vancouver, after offering prayers at the at Akal Takht Sahib in the Golden Temple in Amritsar on September 29, 2023. (Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)
Activists of the Dal Khalsa Sikh organisation, a pro-Khalistan group, stage a demonstration demanding justice for Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who was killed in June 2023 near Vancouver, after offering prayers at the at Akal Takht Sahib in the Golden Temple in Amritsar on September 29, 2023. (Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP via Getty Images)

Sometimes the plots of those ubiquitous network TV cop shows are totally outlandish and unbelievable—and sometimes the writers probably wish they could come up with a tale as wild as actual, real-life Department of Justice indictments. 

Such was the case Wednesday, when the DOJ unsealed a superseding indictment against Nikhil Gupta, an Indian national who prosecutors allege was part of a foiled murder-for-hire scheme targeting a U.S. citizen and Sikh activist. The indictment comes on the heels of a related accusation earlier this fall from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who alleged before the Canadian parliament that the Indian government was responsible for the June murder of a Sikh leader who was also a Canadian citizen. The U.S. allegations against Gupta and his unindicted and unnamed government contact—which will now play themselves out in federal court—are serious, and could place additional strain on Washington’s burgeoning relationship with India, as the nation is fast becoming an important bulwark against China.

The DOJ’s 15-page superseding indictment filed in the Southern District of New York—which builds on a short, nondescript document from earlier this year—lays out a harrowing plot to kill an unnamed Sikh activist living in New York City. That activist is reportedly Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, an American citizen who serves as general counsel at the U.S.-based organization Sikhs for Justice, which advocates for an independent Sikh state, called Khalistan, in and around the Punjab region of India. The separatist movement has a violent history in India, even if it’s now mostly alive in the Sikh diaspora: In the 1980s, two Sikh bodyguards assassinated Prime Minister Indira Gandhi after she allowed Indian troops to storm the holiest Sikh temple in the Sikh-dominated Punjab. Pannun has been banned from India for his political activity and is also facing terrorism charges there, which he disputes. 

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