"We wanted to take revenge for the sacrilege incidents”

Two suspected terrorists arrested near the India-Pakistan border have told police that they are being funded by a Canadian-based operation to take revenge for acts of sacrilege involving the Sikh holy book in Punjab.

The duo was arrested in Amritsar district had planned terror activities to avenge several incidents of sacrilege of Guru Granth Sahib in the state in 2015, Indian media reported.

Mann Singh, 40, of Sri Hargobindpur (Gurdaspur) and Sher Singh, 28, of Kartarpur (Jalandhar) were remanded in five-day police custody on Monday by a court in Ajnala town near Amritsar.

An AK-47 assault rifle, five hand grenades, six pistols, a .32 bore revolver, two rifles, including a modified one, along with ammunition of different calibre were seized from the two while they were trying to retrieve the weapons pushed into the Indian territory from Pakistan side.

The two suspected terrorists were interrogated by officials of various security agencies at the joint interrogation centre near Amritsar.

"We wanted to take revenge for the sacrilege incidents. We were told that we will get the weapons to carry out terror strikes," Mann Singh told the media while he was escorted out of the court by the police.

Police officials claimed that the "terror module was raised and indoctrinated by Canada-based Sikh hardliner Gurjivan Singh, who had visited Punjab twice in six months and arranged for arms and ammunitions through his Khalistani contacts in Pakistan".

The arrested duo claimed Gurjivan Singh was in touch with them for two years and motivated them for terror strikes in Punjab. He also imparted them training in handling arms, including AK-47s, they said.

Mann Singh also confessed to making several visits to Pakistan and being in touch with some Khalistani activists there.

India has been watching warily a marked resurgence of pro-Khalistan elements in Canada recently and has alerted the Canadian authorities about it many a time.

Outfits like the Babbar Khalsa International, International Sikh Youth Federation, Khalistan Commando Force and Khalistan Zindabad Force continue to be banned under India’s Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2004.

The Indian high commission in Ottawa raised the issue of rising activities of Sikh separatist Khalistan movement in Canada with the Candian government several times. Canada is one of the few countries, according to the Indian government, where pro-Khalistani elements are becoming active once again.

Sikhs in Canada have expressed outrage at the continuous warnings by the Indian government about the resurgence of Khalistani separatists saying such talk is tarnishing the image of community in Canada and around the world.

Punjab has witnessed more than 100 incidents of sacrilege of the Guru Granth Sahib - the holy book of Sikhs - in the last two years. The matter became so serious that it emerged as an issue in the Punjab Assembly elections last February.

Last month, the Indian High Commission in Ottawa lodged a “formal complaint” alleging that open threats were made against newly-elected Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh by pro-Khalistan elements during the Vaisakhi celebrations in Surrey.

“These kinds of open and cheap threats show the extent of radicalisation in a relatively small section of the Sikh community in Canada. They endorse our stand of pro-Khalistani leanings of such elements in the Canadian Sikh community. Such brazen threats, and that too against the elected chief minister of a state in another country, should have no place in a democratic polity. It is up to the Prime Minister of Canada and the authorities there to rein in such elements and take preventive action to ensure that things do not get out of hand,” Raveen Thukral media advisor to the Punjab chief minister told IANS.

Earlier, The Amarinder Singh government cold shouldered visiting Canadian defence minister of Indian-origin, Harjit Singh Sajjan, 46, as he visited various places in Punjab last month.

Amarinder refused to meet Sajjan, the first Sikh to be the defence minister of a western country, accusing him and other ministers of Punjab origin in the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of links to radical elements demanding a separate Sikh state of Khalistan.

Amarinder had pointed out that “Sajjan and several other ministers and top leaders in Canada were sympathizing with those indulging in anti-India activities, notwithstanding Canada’s claims to the contrary”, adding that he would “not meet any Khalistani sympathisers”.

Amarinder has been annoyed with the Canadian government since April last year when he was denied permission to visit that country, which has a sizeable Punjabi Diaspora, in the run-up to the Punjab assembly elections.

The Congress leader had to cancel his trip after being told by the Canadian authorities at the last minute that he could not allowed to visit the country for holding political rallies and meetings. The visit was aimed at wooing influential Non-Resident Indian (NRI) groups in Canada.

Trudeau’s prdecessor, Stephen Harper, had visited Punjab in 2012 and 2009 in an apparent bid to woo the Punjabi and Sikh community in Canada.

The recent arrests in India comes in the wake of a Canada-funded anti-terror operation in neighbouring Southeast Asia that netted 17 suspects.

Interpol, on its website, said Operation Sunbird III conducted some eight million searches were from March 28 to April 5, resulting in 17 arrests and the recovery of 110 passports listed in Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents (SLTD) database.

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