A Nevada truck driver was charged Wednesday with helping Sikh separatist groups in India plan terrorist attacks.
In a five-count grand jury indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in Reno, Balwinder Singh, 39, who was arrested Tuesday, was charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to murder or otherwise harm persons in a foreign country and other lesser counts involving immigration records.
Singh was scheduled for an initial court appearance Friday.
The indictment noted that Singh had no plans to stage attacks in the U.S. Instead, he sent money and offered advice to members of two radical Sikh groups who seek an independent state in India's Punjab region, according to the indictment.
The indictment identified them as Babbar Khalsa International, or BKI, and Khalistan Zinzabad Force, or KZF.
BKI, which the U.S. State Department has designated as a terrorist organization, is believed to be responsible for bombings, kidnappings and murders in India, as well as assassinations of people it considers "traitors" to the Sikh religion.
KZF, which is aligned with BKI, has a terrorist designation from the European Union.
According to the indictment, the head of BKI named Singh as the organization's leader in the U.S. last year.
Singh — whose aliases allegedly include "Happy" and "Possi" — fled India and claimed asylum in the U.S. in 1997 and eventually was granted permanent resident status. He used a fake name and birth date on the asylum application and continued to use them in his dealings with immigration officials and the Department of Homeland Security, the indictment said — the basis of the three immigration charges.
Prosecutors said Singh had been working with the two groups for more than 15 years. Using false identities, he frequently traveled to "discuss acts of terrorism to be carried out in India," using code words to describe weapons, ammunition and explosives, according to the indictment.
As recently as August 2012, Singh called an associate in India and asked him to "make arrangements for someone to deliver a threatening note containing a bullet to a lawyer," the indictment said. At other times, he sent money to the groups, it said.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force of Northern Nevada, the Justice Department said in a statement Wednesday, which noted that India is an ally of the U.S.
If convicted, Singh could face up to life in prison and fines of up to $250,000 on each count.
The monotheistic Sikh religion was founded about 1500 in what is now the Punjab region of India. Militant Sikhs have fought for an independent state since the mainly Hindu nation of India was partitioned in 1947.
In 1966, the government set aside part of Punjab as a state with a Sikh majority, but militant organizations continue to campaign for independence. In October 1984, Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards.
NBC News' Pete Williams and Andy Blankstein contributed to this report
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First published December 18 2013, 5:06 PM