New Orleans- Five members of the Sikh religious sect have pleaded innocent to charges they conspired to kill the prime minister of India during a visit to the United States.

The pleas were entered Thursday before a federal magistrate moments after he refused to release the five on bond.

U.S. Magistrate Ivan Lemelle said his refusal was based on the seriousness of the conspiracy, which allegedly included plans to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

John Caplinger, an Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, said Indian nationals have an easy time slipping in and out of the United States, and that they are ‘‘able to come and go at will.”

“Our border is a sieve with no defense whatsoever. With the zeal that they practice their religion, I’m certain the minute they hit the street they’d be gone.”

Caplinger described for the court the system by which Indians acquired motels across the nation in recent year’s and. helped illegal aliens from that country pass through the immigrations net.

His testimony followed that of a New Orleans based FBI agent, who said the two guns, three knives, sword and other paraphernalia found in one of the defendants’ cars demonstrated their danger to the community.

“The information we have is that an extremist cell, so to speak, of the Sikh organization is involved in these actions, not necessarily the Sikhs as a whole,’ said FBI agent Douglas Wolfe. “They appear to be very well organized.”

The Sikhs one wearing a white turban, the others in western attire were led into federal court under tight security.

Officials had earlier announced they would conduct the hearing at the parish prison to avoid the danger of attack or escape. The arrests were made public Monday.

The five were charged with conspiring to kill an Indian minister in New Orleans for medical treatment. One of them was also accused of plotting the assassination of Gandhi during his planned visit to the United States next month.

Sikhs are demanding more autonomy in the Punjab, their home state in northern India.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 24, 1985