Anti-terror police have carried out a series of raids on British Sikhs, seizing cash and electronic devices as part of an investigation into alleged extremism.
West Midlands Police Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU) carried out multiple searches on this week, swooping on five properties in Birmingham, Coventry and West London.
Up to 70 officers took part in the co-ordinated operation, targeting suspects accused of being involved in “extremist activity in India and money laundering”, but no arrests were made.
HuffPost UK understands an army bomb disposal squad was called to the Coventry address, after a number of fireworks were discovered at the residential property.
The Sikh Federation UK, a pro-Sikh independence organisation, accused Special Branch officers of abusing an elderly resident and said the operation was “politically motivated” and a “waste of money and resources.”
The dawn raids came a day after the federation held a convention in the West Midlands in support of an independent Sikh homeland in India called ‘Khalistan’.
A spokesman claimed the operation was an “unfair targeting of Sikh activists” and said it hoped the police were “not doing the dirty work of the Indian authorities”.
He added: “Britain is being used by the Indian government to crack down on so-called Sikh extremism in the UK, for which there is no evidence.
“The raids were simply a fishing expedition to disrupt legitimate campaigning by Sikhs in the UK. Britain is pandering to India for trade favours in a post Brexit world and this is an example of appeasement.”
Britain and the West Midlands region in particular has been the nerve centre for the Sikh separatist movement since 1984, when the Indian army launched an assault on the religion’s holiest shrine the Golden Temple in Amritsar in Punjab, India, in an attempt to flush out armed disaffected Sikhs.
Months later, the then-prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by Sikh bodyguards, sparking riots across the country which saw thousands of Sikhs killed by angry Hindu mobs.
British Sikhs formed the International Sikh Youth Federation (ISYF) soon after, but found it proscribed in the UK under anti-terror laws until 2016, when in an unprecedented move the ban was lifted.
Shamsher Singh, of the National Sikh Youth Federation, told HuffPost his home in Hayes, London, was one of the addresses targeted by detectives.
Singh, 31, said: “They knocked on the door and appeared quite apologetic when they said they’d been told to search for money which I was being accused of laundering.
“They found no cash, but took all my computers and electronic devices which contain years of my research.
“There is no Sikh terrorism or extremism. We are simply exercising our legitimate right to self determination enshrined in the UN charters.
“British authorities are acting like lackeys for the Indian government who are trying to defame and demonise Sikhs in the UK.
“We need to build our own Sikh institutions to counter this campaign of disinformation from the Indian government which is clearly leaning on the UK authorities to try and silence us.”
He said he believed the raids were connected to an ongoing Indian police investigation into Scottish Sikh activist Jagtar Johal, who has been held for almost a year without trial in Punjab for allegedly funding the murders of prominent Hindu politicians in the north west Indian region.
Our family home was raided by SO15 officers today. Looking to find clues for alleged money laundering. Our family once again experienced how no space is allowed for those that honour Khalistan's Shaheeds and refuse to compromise their ideals.#KhalistanZindabad— ਸ਼ਮਸ਼ੇਰ ਸਿੰਘ (@anandpur_exile) September 18, 2018
Two websites associated with Johal were taken down just hours after this week’s police operation.
Birmingham Edgbaston MP Preet Kaur Gill – the first female Sikh to sit in the Commons – said she had “serious concerns” about the raids and that she planned to take up the matter directly with Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
She told Huffpost: “There is speculation that the police raids have political motives and targeting those activists who are outspoken on the 1984 Sikh Genocide issue.
“If this is the case then it is totally unacceptable.”
A West Midlands Police spokesman said: “Searches of a number of properties as part of a West Midlands Counter Terrorism Unit (WMCTU) investigation into allegations of extremist activity in India and fraud offences have now concluded; the investigation continues.”