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CSIS warned B.C. Sikh temple leader of assassination threat before killing: lawyer

Police aware of speculation about political motives for attack that killed Hardeep Singh Nijjar

A close associate of Sikh community leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar says his friend was warned by Canadian intelligence officials about being targeted for assassination by “mercenaries” before Nijjar was gunned down in Surrey, B.C., on Sunday.

New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun says in a statement he spoke with Nijjar by phone the day before he was killed outside the Guru Nanak Sikh gurdwara where he served as president.

Pannun says Nijjar spoke about an unofficial Khalistan referendum vote seeking a separate Sikh state they had been organizing, and threats to their safety related to a reward being offered by the Indian government for Nijjar’s apprehension.

He says Nijjar told him that “gangsters” said they were both on a hit list, and that Nijjar received a call days later from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service warning that his life was in danger.

Pannun, who is general counsel to the advocacy group Sikhs For Justice, says he has no doubt the killing was ordered by Indian government officials, who allege Nijjar was involved in “violent or criminal activities in India or elsewhere.”

Sgt. Tim Pierotti of the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team, which is heading the investigation, said Monday he was aware of speculation about the motives for the attack, but would let evidence lead the case.

The National Investigation Agency did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on Nijjar’s killing.

Pannun says he’s received a growing number of threats as the Sikh separatist movement has gained steam globally.

Nijjar is accused of terrorism and conspiring to murder a Hindu priest in India, with the counterterrorism National Investigation Agency last year announcing a $16,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.

Surrey RCMP say Nijjar was shot dead in his vehicle as he was leaving the car park of the Surrey gurdwara around 8.30 p.m. Sunday.

Assistant Commissioner Brian Edwards says there were numerous witnesses and asked them to set aside their fears and come forward to help the investigation.

A vigil attended by hundreds of people was held at the Surrey gurdwara on Monday night.

READ ALSO: IHIT yet to identify a suspect in Sunday’s fatal shooting of Surrey Sikh temple president