New Delhi: The official website of the Canadian Army was hacked and taken offline for several hours on Wednesday by a group of hackers who claimed to be from India. The cyber attack came amid a diplomatic spat between India and Canada over the killing of a Sikh separatist leader in Canada in June.
The hackers, who called themselves ‘Indian Cyber Force’, posted a message on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), saying that they had hacked the Canadian Army website and shared a screenshot of the site showing an error message. They also warned Canada to “get ready to feel the force” and expressed their anger over Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s “allegations and anti-India politics”.
The hackers were apparently referring to Trudeau’s statement in parliament on Monday, in which he said that there were “credible allegations of a potential link” between Indian government agents and the assassination of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a designated terrorist who headed the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), a militant group that seeks an independent Sikh state in India’s Punjab region.
Nijjar, 45, was shot dead outside a Sikh temple on June 18 in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb with a large Sikh population, three years after India had designated him as a “terrorist”. Nijjar supported the demand for a Sikh homeland in India’s northern state of Punjab, the birthplace of the Sikh religion, which borders Pakistan. He was reportedly organizing an unofficial referendum in India for an independent Sikh nation at the time of this death.
India has strongly denied any involvement in Nijjar’s killing and accused Canada of sheltering Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been provided shelter in Canada. India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said on Tuesday that allegations of India’s involvement in any act of violence in Canada are “absurd and motivated”. It said the “unsubstantiated allegations” sought to shift focus away from “Khalistani terrorists and extremists who have been provided shelter in Canada”.
The cyber attack on the Canadian Army website was detected around noon on Thursday and was resolved later, according to Daniel Le Bouthillier, head of media relations for Canada’s Department of National Defence. He said the website was not accessible on most mobile devices except for a few desktop users. However, he said that the hacking did not have any widespread impact on their system.
He also said that the hacked website is a separate entity from the public sites and internal networks of the Canadian government and its Department of National Defence. The Canadian Navy, Special Command Group, and Air and Space Operations bodies are currently investigating the matter.
The hacking incident has added to the already strained relations between India and Canada, which have deteriorated since Nijjar’s killing. On Tuesday, Canada expelled an Indian diplomat from the country, saying that it had evidence of his involvement in Nijjar’s assassination. India retaliated by expelling a senior Canadian diplomat from New Delhi, calling Canada’s move “unjustified and unwarranted”.
The row between the two countries also threatens to hurt their trade and investment ties, which are worth about $10 billion annually. Both countries are members of the Commonwealth and have close cultural and people-to-people links, with about 1.6 million people of Indian origin living in Canada.