In a nationwide crackdown, 109 top leaders and functionaries of the Popular Front of India (PFI) have been arrested by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate and the police in 11 States.
Most of the arrests have been made in Kerala (22), followed by Karnataka (20) and Maharashtra (20), Tamil Nadu (10), Assam (10) and Uttar Pradesh (8).
The PFI, through a statement, condemned the raids and termed the arrests “unjust”, a witch-hunt against the outfit’s members and supporters and “the harassment of its national and State leaders” across the country.
“The NIA’s baseless claims and sensationalism are solely aimed at creating an atmosphere of terror. We will never be intimidated by such scare tactics by a totalitarian regime that uses the Central agencies as its puppets,” said the PFI national executive council.
Among the main persons arrested are PFI chairman O.M.A. Salam, vice-chairman E.M Abdul Rahiman, its national vice-chairman P. Koya, former outfit chief E. Abubacker and national general secretary Nasurudeen Elamaram.
The NIA searched 93 places in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, Bihar and Manipur.
“The houses of top PFI leaders and members were covered in connection with five cases registered by the NIA,” said an agency official. At 45 locations, the ED officials were part of the joint teams, also comprising security personnel.
The clampdown was based on inputs that the accused were funding terror acts, organising weapon training camps and radicalising people to join banned outfits.
One of the cases was earlier made against over 25 PFI activists by the Nizamabad Police of Telangana in July. The accused were holding camps to train people for indulging in violence.
In one case, the agency has arrested 19 persons. Those picked up from Kerala have been identified as the outfit chief Salam, Jaseer K.P., V. P. Nazarudheen Elamaram, Mohammed Basheer, Shafeer K.P., Abubacker, Prof. Koya and Abdul Rahiman. Seven were held in Karnataka, three in Tamil Nadu and one in Uttar Pradesh.
Two persons have been arrested from Rajasthan in another case, while eight from Tamil Nadu held in the third case and 11 from Kerala in the fourth case. The agency also arrested four accused from Andhra Pradesh and one from Telangana connected to the fifth First Information Report.
As on date, the NIA is investigating 19 PFI-related cases and has so far arraigned 355 persons in the chargesheets. In all, 46 arraigned accused have been held guilty by courts.
The ED has arrested one Shafiq Daru Rahmani in Kozhikode for his alleged role in raising funds from the Gulf and laundering the money for use in various illegal activities in India. “He is an associate of Rauf Sharif, a member of the PFI’s Campus Front of India, who was arrested by us in December 2020,” said an agency official, adding that the ED had so far attached 23 accounts linked to the PFI and 10 linked to the Rehab India Foundation.
“It is revealed that more than ₹100 crore have been deposited in the accounts of the PFI over the years, and that a very large part of the same has been deposited in cash. The source and disbursal of these funds are under investigation,” the ED had earlier said.
In Kerala, Thursday’s searches triggered a call by the PFI State unit for a “hartal” on Friday to protest the “RSS-controlled fascist regime’s State-sponsored terrorist bid to crush dissent”. However, the police said stringent action would be taken against the “hartal” supporters indulging in illegal acts. The PFI activists blocked traffic and squatted on the road in front of their offices and homes of leaders.
The Assam Police, who have arrested 10 persons on various charges, alleged that PFI leaders gave a communal spin to every government policy – including the CAA, the National Register of Citizens, the State’s new education policy, the Cattle Protection Act, the Agnipath scheme, and the eviction of people from encroached government lands – to incite the Muslim community. They also allegedly used cyberspace to provoke people into defying the government and divide the society on communal lines.
In Telangana and Manipur, the PFI offices were sealed for further searches. Last week, the agency had raided the outfit’s training centre in Nizamabad and detained some activists. The joint teams visited several locations in Maharashtra’s Pune, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad, Jalna, Kolhapur, Malegaon (Nashik), Beed, Parbhani and Nanded. The Bengaluru Police, in coordination with the ED and the NIA, carried out searches and arrested 15 persons. The premises linked to the outfit in Tamil Nadu’s Chennai, Theni, Madurai, Coimbatore and Ramanathapuram were also covered.
(With inputs from different bureaus)