The attack on India’s consulate in San Francisco and threats to senior diplomats in Australia, Canada and the US through posters issued by pro-Khalistan elements are being seen as another instance of coordinated action, people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
Violent Khalistani activists sought to burn down the Indian consulate in San Francisco in the early hours of July 2 in what they claimed was an attempt to avenge the killing of Khalistani separatist leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a designated terrorist, in Canada last month.
The latest attack, coming a little more than three months after another violent incident at the same mission, was brought to the attention of the highest rung of American national security and diplomatic apparatus in Washington DC, which instructed its agencies to immediately investigate the incident, step up security, and offer all assistance to Indian officials. The US state department described the attack as a criminal offence.
The incident did not cause any damage inside the diplomatic premises. On Monday, a video titled “Violence Begets Violence” with the hashtag “Long Live Khalistan”, posted on social media by Khalistani radicals, depicted and celebrated the fire inside the consulate.
People familiar with the incident said that around 1.30am on Sunday (PST), two men, dressed in dark overalls which obscured their identity, came to the front gate of the consulate. They painted pro-Khalistani graffiti on the walls and then used what appeared to be fuel cans to spray inflammable liquid inside the diplomatic premises. They set it alight, and within minutes, fled the scene.
Within six minutes of the incident, the fire engines of the San Francisco Fire Department were on the spot and doused the fire.
The entire incident lasted less than 10 minutes and there was no damage to the consulate or harm to the diplomatic personnel and support staff. By 2.30am, local police authorities arrived at the consulate to make preliminary enquiries.
In March, Khalistani activists had planted flags at the consulate, broken through the barricades, and used flagpoles to attack the mission and smash windows.
What helped was that after the attack in March, India had erected grills and railings to bolster security at the consulate.
Since the incident, given the diplomatic engagement that brought the event to the attention of the highest authorities in Washington, American security agencies, from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the Bureau of Diplomatic Security to the San Francisco police, have been in touch with Indian consulate. India has been cooperating with the investigation, sharing CCTV footage and details of active Khalistani groups and clues about the possible perpetrators.
Condemning the incident, US state department spokesperson Matthew Miller tweeted, “The US strongly condemns the reported vandalism and attempted arson against the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on Saturday. Vandalism or violence against diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats in the US is a criminal offence.”
The attack in San Francisco coincided with the emergence of posters issued by pro-Khalistan groups in Australia, Canada and the US that featured photos of the most senior Indian diplomats in these countries and held out threats against them in connection with the death of Nijjar.
The people cited above said Canadian high commissioner Cameron Mackay was summoned to the external affairs ministry on Monday and served a demarche or written protest over the threat to Indian diplomats.
The people said the Canadian envoy was summoned as that country’s response to the latest activities of Khalistani elements was considered inadequate. They added that the matter was raised with Australia and the US, whose authorities responded promptly. Indian security agencies have been working closely with their counterparts in Australia and the US to counter activities of Khalistani groups, they said.
India is clear that it wants to see action, not just sympathy; arrests of those involved in recent incidents; and pre-emptive measures by the US authorities to stop any such future attacks, the people added.
Given the attack on the San Francisco consulate in March, the harassment and attack against an Indian journalist in front of the Indian embassy in Washington DC, and the attempted burning of the consulate, there is a clear pattern of criminal intent and action of pro-Khalistani groups that has been established, the people indicated.
In addition, Khalistani activists have announced what they have described as a “Khalistan Freedom Rally” on July 8 to the Indian consulate in San Francisco. They have put up pictures of the Indian ambassador to US, Taranjit Singh Sandhu, and Indian consul general in San Francisco, TV Nagendra Prasad, on the poster announcing the march, declaring them “Faces of Shaheed Nijjar’s Killers in San Francisco”.
Posters issued in Canada and Australia featured India’s high commissioners to these countries — Sanjay Verma and Manpreet Vohra, respectively. “It is very clear the Khalistani groups are all using the same playbook,” one of the people cited above said.
Officials have brought the proposed “Khalistan Freedom Rally” to the attention of American authorities, given the consistent tendency of these groups to engage in violence, arson, vandalism, and personal physical attacks.
Nijjar was the head of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) and was shot dead by two unidentified gunmen outside a gurdwara in Canada’s British Columbia province on June 18. He was a designated terrorist in India, and KTF is a banned group.