A London court has convicted three British Sikhs, including a woman, of stabbing and slashing a prominent retired Indian Army officer who has been the target of threats by extremist Sikhs for decades. The jury in Southwark Crown Court found Mandeep Singh Sandhu, 34, of Birmingham, Dilbag Singh, 37 and Harjit Kaur, 39, of London, guilty of wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm in an attack on Lieutenant-General Kuldeep Singh Brar. A fourth male suspect in the case, Barjinder Singh Sangha, 33, of Wolverhampton, has already pled guilty. The woman, Harjit, served as the gang’s “look-out” by following the general and his wife then contacting her compatriots by cellphone. The four defendants will be sentenced in September.
Brar, 78, was attacked by the gang last September as he and his wife Meena strolled along a street in London during a holiday while on their way back to their hotel. Brar survived the ordeal, sustaining wounds to his neck and jaw. "This was a violent and life-threatening attack carried out by Sikh extremists on the streets of London's West End,” said Mari Reid of the Crown Prosecution Service's Counter Terrorism Division. Reid called the assault a “highly planned and pre-meditated attack” and a “swift, effective and terrifying ambush,” noting that Sandhu and Singh held Brar down as Sangha slashed at his neck with a knife. "The group clearly targeted… Brar in revenge for his actions during his military career and today's convictions are another reminder that the UK will not tolerate extremism of any kind," Reid added.
Brar had led “Operation Blue Star,” a military maneuver that flushed out Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab in June 1984 under orders from them Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, leaving at least 500 people dead. The militants were seeking an independent homeland for Sikhs, called Khalistan. That operation would eventually lead to the assassination of Gandhi (by her Sikh bodyguards) later that year, followed by a subsequent bloodletting that cost thousands of Indians Sikhs their lives.
Brar, who has recovered from his injuries, told The Independent newspaper of Britain that he has apparently survived eight assassination attempts by Sikh militants since the calamitous days of 1984. “I don't know if I will die a natural death,” he said, noting that Sikh militancy is now more highly developed in Canada and Britain, rather than in India. “President [John F.] Kennedy and Mrs. Gandhi had lots of security and they were still assassinated so there is no fool-proof guarantee that they will not get you.”
Living in a protected high-security compound in Mumbai, Brar said that, according to a website of militant Sikhs, he remains their biggest target.“[Their website] said I am their number one enemy and there have been seven attempts on my life which I have escaped but I will not escape the eighth one,” Brar said. “I am not sure if this was supposed to be the one in London. The website said those who want to join with us just click here and become part of our team to eliminate this enemy of the Sikhs.”
Brar now lives under extraordinary security courtesy of the Indian government. He moves around in a bullet-proof automobile that is followed by jeeps and other vehicles filled with Indian army commandoes. He also has to inform the government of any trips he intends to take at least a week in advance. Given the apparently large number of extremist Sikhs living in the UK and the likelihood of another assassination attempt, Brar has cancelled future visits to London. “It has been quite traumatic,” he told the Independent of his unusual existence. “Living in a shell with protection around you all the time is not great fun, your liberties are curtailed and you can’t live your life the way you would like to, but I don’t think there’s much of a choice in the matter.”
Brar, who is himself a Sikh, defended Operation Blue Star. “I lifted the curfew every day for many hours to allow those inside [the Golden Temple] to come out,” he said. “But the militants wouldn’t let them because they felt if they held them as hostages the army wouldn’t come in. We were calling on them to surrender; we didn’t want bloodshed… if you don’t want to get out and want to take us on then, okay, take us on, but don’t keep those people as hostages.”
Brar said that Sikhs who want him dead are not looking at the true source of their anger “The blame should go on militants and terrorists who turned this holiest of holy shrines into a fortified place with weapons, ammunition, explosives and everything that their religion should not have permitted,” he declared.
“I feel very bad about what happened to the Sikhs after Mrs. Gandhi’s assassination. It shouldn’t have happened. There was obviously a failure whether it was the police or the government or whatever. At the same time it’s very sad that Mrs Gandhi should have been assassinated by one of her loyal bodyguards. These are things that will go down in history and people will ponder on this when I am no longer around.”
A blogger on the Times of India website used the London conviction to highlight the differences between the British and Indian justice systems. “If this had taken [place] in India our courts could have taken more [than] ten years, [while] in UK the justice system works really fast,” he wrote. “At least justice has been served and the guilty [have] been punished… [I] salute Lt Gen Brar [for] defending [himself] while he was attacked. Bravo, Sir.”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.