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Witness of B.C. Sikh leader's shooting says the gunshots sounded like fireworks

Shots sounded like fireworks

The B.C. gurdwara where a Sikh separatist leader was gunned down has launched an investigation into how an American newspaper was able to view security camera footage of the June killing.

Gurkeerat Singh, who said he is a spokesman for the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara in Surrey, said it's unclear how The Washington Post was able to see the video of Hardeep Singh Nijjar's death.

"We've been told by the temple that the video is not for the media, the public, because it's an ongoing investigation. That video won't be released to anyone."

It's an "ongoing investigation," he said in an interview on Wednesday.

While Singh said The Canadian Press could not review video captured at the temple of the shooting, he confirmed the reporting of The Washington Post.

He has seen the 90-second video several times, he said.

Singh said the video shows Nijjar leaving the temple's parking lot in his grey pickup truck. A white car drives parallel and then cuts in front of the pickup and stops, preventing Nijjar from leaving.

Two gunmen then emerged from out of camera range to shoot Nijjar, Singh said.

Singh said the surveillance footage shows the shooting was "preplanned and well-orchestrated."

They knew Nijjar's driving habits and his routine, he said.

"It wasn't something done randomly. These people are watching the movement of Hardeep Singh for a while and they knew the direction he goes and how he exits the gurdwara," said Singh.

Nijjar's death set off escalating diplomatic tension between India and Canada after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in Parliament that Canada's intelligence services were investigating “credible” information about “a potential link” between India’s government and the killing.

Nijjar had been a vocal supporter of the Khalistan movement that advocates a separate Sikh homeland in the Punjab. He was an organizer for the unofficial referendum in several countries calling for a separate homeland for Sikhs.

The independence movement has angered India’s government, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had expressed “strong concerns” to Trudeau about the way Canada has handled the movement.

Malkit Singh was the goalkeeper in a soccer game with friends at a field near the gurdwara on June 18 when he heard what sounded like fireworks.

"Someone said 'that's not fireworks, it's gunshots,'" he said in an interview translated from Punjabi.

"It was just a blast, bursts of shots, on and on. Then we saw two men running off, so I and a couple of the players chased after them. And two other people ran toward the gurdwara to see what was happening. I was barefoot because that's how I tend goal.

"The two men, running so fast, wore black hoodies and black pants, and their heads were covered with pieces of light cloth. They weren't wearing turbans. We just couldn't catch up with them before they disappeared."

Singh said that two days later, a friend showed him surveillance video on his phone from the gurdwara parking lot of a light-coloured car following Nijjar's truck, then stopping the pickup at the exit. Both he and the friend were on a committee headed by Nijjar, he said, so they had access to the video.

He said he met Nijjar shortly after arriving from India in 2014 and that Nijjar helped pay for Singh's wedding the following year and supported him in every way.

"I don't have any family here, and he gave me a job in his plumbing company for a year."

Nijjar knew he was a target, Singh said.

"He said police told him there were threats against him, that he should be careful. But he said, 'What am I supposed to do? I have to go to work and support my family. They can't provide security for me.' He wasn't afraid though, because he said we're all going to die when our time is up."

Bhupinderjit Sidhu was also playing soccer with Singh that day. He and another man ran toward Nijjar's truck and saw him slumped over.

"I opened the door and had a very good look at him. He wasn't breathing. I shook him, and he was not breathing. There was glass from the broken window on the passenger side," he said in an interview conducted in both English and Punjabi.

Sidhu said he was shocked at the death of the man he considered a friend.

"But at the same time, it was all over Indian social media that he would be a target for the Khalistan movement in Canada."

Sgt. Timothy Pierotti with the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team said on Wednesday that it is an active investigation and the team can't release more details. There's no indication why police didn't tell the media that a second vehicle was involved in the murder.

"As the investigation into the homicide of Hardeep Singh Nijjar remains open and active, I cannot comment on specific evidence collected by the investigational team," said Pierotti.

He said police had completed a "fulsome canvass of the area," following the evidence and collecting all relevant video footage.

The Washington Post also reported it took police between 12 and 20 minutes to response after the gunshots were fired.

RCMP issued a statement on Tuesday to correct the "record on the homicide."

"The first 911 call in relation to this incident was received at 8:27 p.m. and the first officers arrived on scene in under four minutes, with more officers arriving on scene shortly after," the statement said.

It says the public act of violence has caused community members to feel unsafe.

"In response to community concerns, Surrey RCMP has increased patrols around gurdwaras and temples."

When asked about how The Washington Post's reporters saw the video of the killing, journalist Maham Javaid said they would not comment on their sources.

 



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