A 60-year-old Indian-origin Sikh man has been arrested in the U.S. for allegedly attempting to hire people to shoot multiple people and burn down a prominent Gurdwara in California, according to media reports.
Rajvir Raj Singh Gill, a former Bakersfield City Council candidate, was arrested on March 4 for allegedly targeting one of Bakersfield’s largest Sikh places of worship, Gurdwara Shaheed Baba Deep Singh Ji Khalsa Darbar, and burning down the property, bakersfield.com portal reported.
Mr. Gill was arrested in connection with six counts of criminal threats after officers executed a search warrant at his residence, the report said.
The Bakersfield Police Department said in addition to offering someone money in exchange for burning down the gurdwara, Mr. Gill tried to pay people to shoot others who he had an ongoing dispute with, 23abc.com portal reported.
Mr. Gill had attempted to run for City Council Ward 7 against Manpreet Kaur in 2022. Ms. Kaur won the election and was the first Sikh Punjabi woman elected to the Bakersfield City Council, the report added.
Ms. Kaur, who won the seat for Ward 7, issued the following statement: “I am aware of the alleged allegations. I am confident the Bakersfield Police department is working diligently to keep our community safe and will address the matter accordingly. Hearing this news is distressing and frightening. This is one of our most highly attended Sikh temples locally. To hear of an alleged attempt to destroy a place of worship is heartbreaking and unfathomable.”
“He hired the people. Those people, whoever he hired, came and told us and they made a report to the police. So, the police called us and they got our information and everything and asked questions and we told them what’s going on, and that’s when everything happened,” said Amrik Singh Athwal, a temple board member.
A Bakersfield Police Department spokesman declined Tuesday to address what may have prompted Mr. Gill to take the actions he is accused of, and he would not elaborate on the case.
A temple elder said Tuesday that Mr. Gill has in recent months shown up at the property disrupting prayers and threatening members of the congregation and carrying a gun before being arrested at one point. There are no records of his arrest prior to Saturday.
The elder, Sukhwinder Singh Ranghi, attributed the repeated confrontations to a dispute over more than $800,000, contributed by members of the congregation, that was supposed to reimburse a corporate entity set up to buy the temple out of foreclosure in July 2020.
“It’s the greed that most likely got to him,” Mr. Ranghi was quoted as saying by bakersfield.com.
Mr. Ranghi said the temple learned Mr. Gill offered $10,000 to two Hispanic men to kill certain leaders of the congregation who are involved in the court cases, including Mr. Ranghi. He said Mr. Gill drove the men around the city pointing out the homes of the temple leaders he wanted to be killed. This information came to temple leadership from an associate of the intended hitmen.
With more than 500 members, Shaheed is one of Bakersfield’s best-attended Sikh temples. It hosts an annual celebration in late October that draws thousands.