239 held after raids across the country in fresh PFI crackdown
The fresh raids came five days after 108 PFI functionaries, including its chairman OMA Salam, were arrested.
About 250 people associated with the Popular Front of India (PFI) were on Tuesday arrested or detained for questioning in the second round of raids within a week across eight states as part of the largest-ever crackdown against the Islamic group over alleged terror links.
Conducted by state police teams, the raids were spread across Uttar Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Gujarat, Delhi, Maharashtra, Assam, and Madhya Pradesh, and come at a time when calls have grown to ban the outfit.
The fresh raids came five days after 108 PFI functionaries, including its chairman OMA Salam, were arrested in multi-agency raids spearheaded by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) in coordination with the Enforcement Directorate (ED), and state police forces at 102 locations across 15 states over charges of terror-funding, radicalisation and attempts at “violent jihad”. NIA is investigating 19 cases involving PFI amid calls for banning the organisation.
The fresh crackdown was carried out to break the organisational network, which is instrumental in violent protests in respective states since last week’s arrest of its top leadership, people familiar with the development said. Majority of those taken into custody on Tuesday were members of SDPI (Social Democratic Party of India) – the political wing of PFI, they said.
Incidents of targeted attacks including the use of Molotov cocktails on properties of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) office-bearers were reported at Erode, Salem and Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, and about a dozen more locations in other states between September 23 and 26.
“Following PFI top leadership’s arrest by the NIA on September 22, several middle- and lower-rung members of PFI and SDPI ran campaigns against the law enforcement agencies and attacked members of Hindu community. The local police in these states developed intelligence which revealed there could be further attempts to foment trouble such as inciting communal violence and action has been taken accordingly,” said an official in New Delhi, asking not to be named.
This person added that “state police are also better equipped to unearth the micro-level PFI network, hideouts, people who attend regular meetings, etc”.
The Delhi Police and central agencies detained at least 30 PFI members in raids in the national capital on Tuesday. They said PFI, which allegedly funded the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) in 2019 and 2020, has branches across Delhi. The police have alleged the conspiracy to orchestrate the 2020 riots in Delhi was plotted at the PFI’s office in New Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh.
Last Thursday, PFI’s Delhi state chief Parvez Ahmad was among those arrested.
In Madhya Pradesh, the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) detained 21 PFI members from eight districts in the early hours on Tuesday after inputs from NIA, an official said, asking not to be named. NIA last week arrested PFI’s state chief Abdul Karim, general secretary Abdul Khalid, treasurer Mohammad Javed and secretary Jameel Sheikh from Ujjain and Indore. The four were later sent to seven-day police remand. The fresh detentions were made after an analysis of the documents recovered in raids last Thursday.
Karnataka’s additional director general of police (law and order) Alok Kumar said raids were being conducted across the state and they would be able to provide more information once they were over. At least 80 people are reported to have been taken into custody in raids in places such as Shivamogga, Chitradurga, Mangaluru, Hassan, Bidar, Chikkaballapura, Raichur, and Ramanagara.
A PFI member from Raichur accused the ruling BJP of orchestrating the raids to create an atmosphere of terror. “NIA has carried out so many raids but has not got any proof. We are not anti-nationals. We are protesting legally and would not tolerate them taking away our leaders in the dead of the night,” the PFI member said, asking not to be named. “If they do not release them, we will have to continue our protests. We are not going to get scared of the police and NIA and will legally continue our protests.”
Former Karnataka chief minister and BJP leader BS Yediyurappa demanded a ban on PFI. “The Centre has to ban the PFI. They must have done it much earlier,” said Yediyurappa. “A thorough probe will reveal the conspiracy hatched by the PFI. It was planning to destabilise the central government.”
Protests were reported across the state against the crackdown on Tuesday.
In Assam, at least 25 PFI functionaries were arrested on Tuesday across eight districts. Eleven functionaries of PFI were arrested last week. They included Abu Sama Ahmed, the organisation’s Assam unit chief.
In a statement last week, NIA said searches were conducted in connection with five cases following continued inputs and evidence that PFI was involved in the funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organising training camps for providing armed training, and radicalising people to join banned organisations.
Hours after the raids on Thursday last week, Union home minister Amit Shah chaired a meeting with top officials, including national security adviser Ajit Doval, over the crackdown. The raids sparked clashes and demonstrations, especially in Kerala where PFI was founded in 2006. The outfit called a one-day nationwide strike on September 23 to protest the action.
In a statement last week, PFI dismissed the allegations of terrorism and called it sensationalism. “PFI condemned the nationwide raids, the unjust arrests and the harassments of its national and state leaders across India and the witch-hunting against the members,” the statement said.
It added that PFI will never surrender in the face of “any scary action by a totalitarian regime using the central agencies as its puppets and will stand firm on its will for recovering the democratic system and spirit of the constitution of our beloved country”.
PFI has offices in 22 states from Kerala to Manipur. Experts say the group’s reach was helped by the unease among a section of Muslims with the rise of Hindu right-wing groups. PFI calls itself as a neo-social movement committed to empowering people to ensure justice, freedom, and security.
Last week, while producing its top leaders including chairman Salam in a court in Delhi, NIA said PFI wanted to establish “Islamic rule” in India by encouraging Muslim youth to join global terror outfits such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
Those taken by NIA into custody last week are currently being questioned about their international linkages, funds received from the Gulf countries, their usage, alleged arms training facilities of PFI and the group’s alleged radicalisation activities.
An ED officer, who did not want to be named, said: “Investigations are going on into all funding activities of PFI and SDPI. While several of their funding sources in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and other countries have already been identified, efforts are on to trace immovable and movable properties, which may have been created using the funds received from abroad”.
Government officials have previously hinted that, based on evidence submitted by NIA, ED and state police forces, a proposal to ban PFI and its linked organisations under Unlawful Activities Prevention Act or UAPA could be moved soon.