The National Investigation Agency (NIA), which carried out searches at 12 locations linked to controversial televangelist Zakir Naik’s Islamic Research Foundation (IRF), had initially planned to search the Islamic International School (IIS) run under IRF Educational Trust. However, at the eleventh hour, the NIA decided against searching the school owing to an intercepted call. The central counter terrorism agency searched 12 locations in Mumbai and seized Rs 12 lakhs in cash. The NIA also registered a case against Zakir Naik.
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“Initially we were planning to search the Islamic International School (IIS), run under IRF Educational Trust. However, the plan was altered at the last minute after we intercepted a phone call wherein the caller and receiver were discussing that in the event of raid by NIA, schoolchildren from IIS should be used as ‘bait’ to create a law and order situation. This was to put the agency in a tight spot and even make their plan backfire. Therefore, we altered the plan and decided not to search the premises,” a senior official privy to details told The Indian Express.
The Centre had days ago declared IRF as unlawful and banned it under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).
Sections 10 (Penalty for being member of an unlawful association), 13 (Punishment for unlawful activities), 18 (Punishment for conspiracy) of UAPA and Section 153A (promoting enmity) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) have been invoked against Naik and others. “While Zakir has been named in the FIR , those found affiliated to the now banned outfit will be booked in the case,” said an official explaining ‘others’ named in the FIR.
While IRF spokesperson confirmed that the school wasn’t searched by NIA, he expressed displeasure over freezing of its bank accounts. According to IRF authorities, about seven offices in Mumbai were inspected by the NIA, which included a women’s wing, Global Education office, IRF headquarters, Islamic Books and Harmony office that produces literature on Islam.
“We were assured that students would face no problem, then why have bank accounts been frozen,” said Arif Malik, spokesperson for IRF. The school’s over 200 students are currently giving their half yearly exams. The three-storey air conditioned school located in Mazgaon, South Mumbai, imparts education to students of sixth to tenth class. Another school of IIS is based in Dongri for junior classes.
Sources said “incriminating documents relating to various activities including financial transactions and property details of Naik and IRF have been recovered. Nine-teams which conducted the searches at twelve premises also seized electronic storage device. The NIA reportedly went through accounts and stored literature at these offices in a daylong raid that began before 6 am on Saturday and continued until night. No books or hard copy of research material was seized.
Sources added that data running into several terabytes have been seized from the office of Harmony Media. “Harmony Media was the production company set up by Naik that used to supply content to Peace TV on which many of the controversial speeches of Naik were aired. We have recovered several terabytes of data from its office and this would be central to our probe,” the official added.
Harmony Media, a video and software production company, was incorporated in 2005. Zakir Naik was the managing director from May 8, 2006 till he resigned on March 13, 2013. His wife was appointed on the board on May 8, 2006, and resigned on March 15, 2013. Zakir Naik and his wife, Farhat Zakir Naik, were promoters-cum-directors of the two real estate companies — Longlast Construction and Right Property Solutions — till March 2013. Both these companies did not report any income in the seven-year period between FY’09 and FY’15, although one reported a surge in borrowings.
“The Mumbai Police’s probe had revealed that over Rs 50- Rs 60 crore had been transferred from middle eastern countries to a local account belonging to one of the relatives of Naik. The funds were subsequently transferred to the accounts of Naik’s wife, his children and even some of his close relatives. Our probe will focus on sources of these funds to find out if there was any vested interest by any outfit to fund Naik’s ‘pro-terror’ rhetoric,” revealed another official.
While the NIA is separately probing the case of alleged radicalisation of 21 youth from Kerala who fled the country earlier this year to join globally banned outfit Islamic State (IS) or Daesh (as it’s now referred by security agencies) by members of IRF namely its Guest Manager Arshi Quershi and Rizwan Khan who was a volunteer with Al-Birr Foundation (suspected to have links with IRF), sources add that the role of senior office-bearers and close associates of the outfit will also be probed. “While Qureshi’s role will be probed in detail in the Kerala case, since he was an office-bearer of IRF, we will investigate how the now banned outfit radicalised young minds and also if this was the larger brief given to the other IRF employees and if that was the case how were they pursuing it,” added the official.
Meanwhile, over 50 cops manned the narrow, cluttered streets which housed these offices. Most offices are tiny rooms meant for administrative purposes. The IRF has 21 employees on its payroll. “Since Saturday was a holiday, not all employees were present. Few were called by Mumbai police to open locked cupboards,” an official from IRF said.
“The offices had been sealed by Mumbai police on Friday. None of our employees were called for questioning,” said Malik. The organisation has been banned for five years by the home ministry for objectionable content preached by scholar Zakir Naik. Naik founded IRF in 1991.
The police also raided an old madrassa for women in the City Palace Hotel, Dongri. According to the manager, the madrassa classes of IRF had shut down in the second floor’s hall sometime back and the room now remains vacant.