NEW DELHI : Multi-agency teams spearheaded by the NIA arrested 106 functionaries of the radical Islamic outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) on Thursday in near simultaneous raids at 93 locations in 15 states for allegedly supporting terror activities in the country, officials said.
Officials described the mega crackdown as the “largest-ever investigation process till date” against the PFI.
Kerala, where the PFI has some strong pockets, accounted for the maximum number of 22 arrests, officials said, adding that its chairman O M A Salam was among those arrested.
The arrests were made by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the police forces of the states concerned.
The PFI, formed in 2006, claims to strive for a neo-social movement ostensibly for the empowerment of marginalised sections of India, and is often accused by law enforcement agencies of promoting radical Islam.
Maharashtra and Karnataka accounted for 20 arrests each, Tamil Nadu (10), Assam (9), Uttar Pradesh (8), Andhra Pradesh (5), Madhya Pradesh (4), Puducherry and Delhi (3 each) and Rajasthan (2).
Details of all the arrested functionaries were not immediately available.
The officials said the searches took place at the premises of persons allegedly involved in terror funding, organizing training camps and radicalizing people to join proscribed organizations.
As the raids, which began in the early hours of Thursday continued, Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting of top officials, including National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, during which they are believed to have discussed the searches at premises linked to the PFI and action against terror suspects.
Besides Doval, the meeting was attended by Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, Director General of National Investigation Agency (NIA) Dinkar Gupta and other top officials.
The nationwide raids sparked an angry response from the PFI which called for a dawn-to-dusk hartal in Kerala on Friday and termed the arrest of its leaders as a part of “state-sponsored terrorism”.
“A hartal will be observed in the state on September 23 against the RSS-controlled fascist government’s attempt to silence dissenting voices using the central agencies,” A Abdul Sathar, PFI’s state general secretary, said.
However, the Kerala unit of the BJP termed the proposed hartal as “unnecessary” and urged the state government to take stringent action against those involved in this action.
Alleging that all the previous hartals called by the PFI had ended in riots, BJP state chief K Surendran said the state authorities should be ready to ensure adequate security for people’s life and property.
Several Muslim organisations appealed to the youth from the community to remain patient on the action taken by the law enforcement agencies against the PFI.
The organisations said they have faith in the judicial system, law and Constitution of the country, according to a tweet in Hindi by the Muslim Students’ Organisation of India (MSO), an apex students and youths body of Muslims working on promotion of Sufism and inclusive India.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who is on a ‘Bharat-jodo’ yatra, said “all forms of communalism regardless where they come from should be combated.
“There should be zero tolerance towards communalism and it should be combated”, Gandhi said when asked by reporters in Kochi for his reaction to the raids.
The ED has been investigating the PFI’s alleged “financial links” in connection with charges of fuelling the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in the country, the 2020 Delhi riots, alleged conspiracy in Hathras in Uttar Pradesh over alleged gang-rape and death of a Dalit woman, and a few other incidents.
The probe agency has filed two charge sheets against the PFI and its office-bearers before a special PMLA court in Lucknow.
In February last year, the ED filed its first charge sheet against the PFI and its student-wing Campus Front of India (CFI) on money laundering charges, claiming its members wanted to “incite communal riots and spread terror” in the aftermath of the 2020 Hathras gang rape case.
Those named in the charge sheet included K A Rauf Sherif, national general secretary of CFI and a member of PFI; Atikur Rahman, national treasurer of CFI; Masud Ahmed, Delhi-based general secretary of CFI; journalist “associated with PFI” Siddique Kappan; and Mohammed Alam, another CFI/PFI member.
In the second charge sheet filed this year, the ED had claimed that a hotel based in the UAE “served” as a money laundering front for the PFI.
In Maharashtra, the Anti-Terrorism Squad(ATS) arrested 20 activists of the PFI during the raids conducted in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad, Pune, Kolhapur, Beed, Parbhani, Nanded, Malegaon (in Nashik district) and Jalgaon, an official said.
The ATS has registered four offences in Mumbai, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nanded under various Indian Penal Code Sections including 153-A (wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riots), 121A (conspiring to commit certain offences against the State) and 120B (criminal conspiracy), and provisions of the stringent Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), he said.
Simultaneous raids were conducted by the NIA in more than a dozen locations in Bengaluru, Mangaluru in Dakshina Kannada district, Kalaburagi, and Sirsi in Uttara Kannada district, official sources said.
As the offices were being raided, many Muslim youth gathered and raised ‘NIA go back’ slogans at some places.
They also tried to hinder the raids at some locations, but the police thwarted their attempt by taking them into preventive custody.
Police sources said the NIA team seized documents, literature, computers, laptops and phones as well. (PTI)