By Ismail Shakil
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Police in Canada are investigating a series of extortions and related crimes that they believe are orchestrated by a suspect in India and involve criminals in Edmonton, Alberta, targeting the region's affluent South Asian people.
In what Edmonton Police described as a new trend in Canada, victims typically receive a WhatsApp message along with a request for compensation for the victims' safety.
There have been similar incidents reported in British Columbia and Ontario, though police said there was no evidence to suggest those incidents are related to the ones in the Edmonton area.
Edmonton Police said they so far have reports of 27 incidents between October and January, including extortions, arson, and drive-by shootings, and asked others who may have been targeted to come forward.
"At this time, we believe the series has been committed by a group of local individuals being directed by a suspect in India," Edmonton police inspector Lance Parker told reporters.
Police have arrested six young males in connection with the arson and firearms offenses, Parker said. No injuries have been reported from the shootings, though a firefighter was injured in one of the arsons, at least C$9 million ($6.7 million) in property damage had been recorded.
Police declined to comment further on the Indian connection and said Canada's federal police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, were handling the cross-border aspect of the investigation.
Diplomatic relations between India and Canada have frayed in recent months over Canada's allegations linking Indian agents to the murder of Sikh separatist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in British Columbia last year. India has rejected that allegation. Canadian authorities have yet to charge anyone for the killing.
About 4% of the Canadian population is of Indian heritage, making Canada home to one of the largest communities of Indian origin, according to the Canadian foreign ministry.
($1 = 1.3487 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Ottawa)