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December 14, 2018

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India native living in Reno sentenced in terrorist plot

Bogden

Scott Sonner / AP

Daniel Bogden, U.S. attorney for Nevada, right, and FBI Special Agent Aaron Rouse of Las Vegas address the media in Reno on Tuesday March 7, 2017, after India citizen Balwinder Singh was sentenced to 15 years in prison for conspiring to plot a terrorist attack in his home country near the border with Pakistan.

Click to enlarge photo

This undated file booking photo shows Balwinder Singh, an India citizen who received asylum in the U.S. and lived in Northern Nevada until his arrest in December 2013. A federal judge sentenced Singh to 15 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiring to plot terror strikes in his home country on the border with Pakistan while living in Reno three years ago.

A Reno resident associated with terrorist groups in his native country of India was sentenced Tuesday to 15 years in prison for conspiring to launch a terrorist attack there, according to the FBI and the U.S. attorney for Nevada.

U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks in Reno also ordered Balwinder Singh, 42, to remain under lifetime federal supervision upon his release from prison.

The plot, which investigators believe targeted an Indian government official for assassination, was thwarted when one of Singh's co-conspirators was barred from boarding a flight from San Francisco to South Asia in November 2013, officials said. The target was going to be determined after the suspect landed.

Singh, 42, an Indian national and a permanent U.S. legal resident, belonged to the Babbar Khalsa International (BKI) and Khalistan Zindabad Force groups, which aim to establish an independent Sikh state in the Punjab region of India, officials said. The groups use bombings, kidnappings and murders to accomplish their goals, documents show.

The leader of the BKI group, Wadhawa Singh Babbar, also known as "Chacha," in 2012 assigned Singh as the U.S. head of the organization, documents show.

Singh gave false statements to immigration officials in 1997 when he applied for asylum, documents show. During his time in the U.S. he also provided false information and traveled back to India on several occasions.

From 2006 to 2011, Singh wired money to India to two known conspirators, amounts which ranged from $98.50 to $985, documents show. The money was earmarked to fund terrorist attacks.

The more serious allegations in the state's case began in 2012, right around the time he was deemed the leader of BKI, documents show. Prosecutors said that he requested "big weapons and explosives" and in phone conversations taught someone how to build an explosive device.

That same year, he arranged to have a gun ready in India so he could shoot someone characterized as a "turncoat." He also ordered a threatening note and a bullet be delivered to a lawyer.

In late 2013, Singh bought two pairs of night-vision goggles and a computer, which he provided to a suspect who was to carry out an attack on an undetermined date, officials said. Authorities on Dec. 9, 2013, barred the suspect from boarding a flight to Thailand.

The co-conspirator wasn't identified and it wasn't immediately clear if he or she was ever arrested.

Singh — also known as Jhajj, Happy, Possi and Baljit Singh — was arrested soon after he was indicted in December 2013 and has been jailed since, documents show. Three other men indicted with Singh and arrested about the same time were sent to prison — sentences ranging from 15 to 30 months — for convictions on drugs and fraud charges.

Singh agreed to the terms of the plea agreement in exchange for dropping a series of other charges, including conspiracy to murder, kidnap or maim persons in a foreign country.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Sullivan said he expects Singh to be released in about 10 years, given that he's already served about three years and likely to earn credit for good behavior. Following his prison term, a federal immigration judge will determine whether Singh will be deported.

"My only request is I should not be deported. I should be released here," Singh told the judge through a Punjabi interpreter.

Defense attorney Michael Kennedy said Singh was beaten and tortured by Indian government officials in the past and never posed a threat to the United States. He argued any post-release supervision should be limited to five years.

Sullivan said it's possible Singh still will be extradited to India where he faces criminal charges in connection with a terror attack on a passenger bus that killed three people in India in April 2006.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.