Canadian police make three arrests in connection with the killing of Sikh separatists that sparked a row with India

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Canadian police on Friday arrested three suspects in the killing of a Sikh separatist leader last June that became the focus of a diplomatic row with India, and are investigating possible links between the detainees and the Indian government .

Three Indian nationals in their 20s, identified as Kamalpreet Singh, Karan Brar and Karampreet Singh, were arrested Friday morning in Edmonton, Alberta, for the murder of 45-year-old Hardeep Singh Nijjar by masked gunmen outside Vancouver, police said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sparked a diplomatic feud with India in September when he said there were “credible allegations” of Indian involvement in Nijjar’s killing.

India had accused Nijjar of links to terrorism but angrily denied his involvement in the killing. In response to the allegations, India last year told Canada to remove 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country. Tensions remain, but have now subsided somewhat.

The three suspects were non-permanent residents in Canada, Chief Inspector Mandeep Mooker of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said at a news conference in Toronto on Friday.

“We are investigating whether there are any links with the Indian government,” Mooker said, adding that it was an “ongoing investigation.”

David Teboul, deputy commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, said Canadian authorities were speaking to counterparts in India. “I would describe that collaboration as quite challenging,” he said. “It was very difficult.”

The three men were expected to be transported to British Columbia on Monday, where they would be charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

An Indian-born Canadian citizen, Nijjar was a plumber and also a leader in what remains of a once-strong movement to create an independent Sikh homeland known as Khalistan. But he had denied allegations of links to terrorism.

A bloody decade-long Sikh insurgency shook northern India in the 1970s and 1980s until it was crushed by a government crackdown that killed thousands of people, including prominent Sikh leaders.

The Khalistan movement has lost much of its political power, but still has followers in the Indian state of Punjab, as well as in the important overseas Sikh diaspora. While the active insurgency ended years ago, the Indian government has repeatedly warned that Sikh separatists were trying to make a comeback.