Canada arrests three Indians over the murder of Sikh separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar

Police in Canada have arrested three Indian nationals over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader last year, sparking a major diplomatic row with India.

Hardeep Singh Nijjar – a designated terrorist in India – was murdered in Surrey on June 18 by two masked men.

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

The three suspects have been identified as Karan Brar, 22, Kamal Preet Singh, 22, and Karan Preet Singh, 28, Chief Inspector Mandeep Mooker of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Friday.

All three suspects were arrested from Alberta, where they had lived as non-permanent residents for at least three to five years.

Flags and placards are seen as demonstrators protest outside the Indian consulate (REUTERS)

They have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, according to court documents.

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

Assistant Commissioner David Teboul said Canadian authorities were speaking to counterparts in India. “I would characterize that collaboration as quite challenging,” he said.

“It’s been very difficult.”

The three men were expected to be transported to British Columbia on Monday to face charges.

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. The Sikh separatist movement is calling for a separate homeland for the Sikh religious community, to be removed from the Indian state of Punjab.

Nijjar was accused of leading a banned militant organization called the Khalistan Tiger Force, but he had denied allegations of links to terrorism.

Three months after his death, Trudeau claimed that the Indian government could be behind Nijjar’s murder, further deteriorating already shaky bilateral ties.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the murder of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said in parliament.

India rejected Canada’s “absurd and motivated” accusations and accused the Trudeau government of allowing the Khalistan movement to flourish. In response to the allegations, India last year told Canada to remove 41 of its 62 diplomats in the country. Tensions remain, but have since eased somewhat.

Moninder Singh, a friend of Nijjar, said the arrests were “bittersweet”.

“It is a relief that the research is making progress. At the same time, it still raises a lot of questions,” Singh, a spokesperson for the BC Gurdwaras Council, told Reuters.

Balpreet Singh, legal counsel for the World Sikh Organization, said: “I think Canada has been soft on Indian interference over the last 40 years. The Canadian Sikh community has borne the brunt of it.”

But Nijjar’s death represents “the undermining of (Canada’s) sovereignty on a very, very different level,” Moninder Singh said.