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Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

Over 100 held in nationwide crackdown on PFI, Amit Shah chairs high-level meeting

Of the 106 arrested, 45 have been held by the NIA. At least 18 of the 45, including Salam, have been lodged in different police stations of Delhi. The 18 were produced before a Patiala House Court which sent them to police custody for four days.

NIA conducted searches at Survey number 5 Ashraf Nagar on Kondhwa with CRPF security on Thursday morning. (Express photograph by Arul Horizon)

Launching a multi-agency operation spearheaded by the National Investigation Agency (NIA), law enforcement agencies conducted searches across the country Thursday and arrested 106 workers of the Popular Front of India (PFI), including its chairman O M A Salam, for their alleged support to terror activities.

Officials said the searches were conducted almost simultaneously in 15 states by the NIA, Enforcement Directorate and state police forces.

Of the 106 arrested, 45 have been held by the NIA. At least 18 of the 45, including Salam, have been lodged in different police stations of Delhi. The 18 were produced before a Patiala House Court which sent them to police custody for four days.

The NIA, sources said, wants to question the 18 on their leaders, details of money trail, recovery of weapons, explosives.

Sources said 93 locations were searched in 15 states – 39 locations in Kerala, 16 in Tamil Nadu, 12 in Karnataka, 7 in Andhra Pradesh, 4 each in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, 2 each in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, 1 each in Telangana, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Goa, West Bengal, Bihar and Manipur.

In a statement, the NIA said, “These searches were conducted at the houses and offices of the top PFI leaders and members in connection with five cases registered by the NIA following continued inputs and evidence that the PFI leaders and cadres were involved in funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organising training camps for providing armed training and radicalising people to join banned organisations.”

Sources said search warrants were issued on September 20. The NIA is probing over a dozen PFI-related cases.

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The NIA statement said a large number of criminal cases have been registered by different states over the last few years against the PFI and its leaders and members for their involvement in many violent acts.

“Criminal violent acts carried out by PFI such as chopping off the hand of a college professor, cold-blooded killings of persons associated with organisations espousing other faiths, collection of explosives to target prominent people and places, support to Islamic State and destruction of public property have had a demonstrative effect of striking terror in the minds of the citizens,” it stated.

(A PTI report said the maximum number of arrests were made in Kerala (22) followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka (20 each), Tamil Nadu (10), Assam (9), Uttar Pradesh (8), Andhra Pradesh (5), Madhya Pradesh (4), Puducherry and Delhi (3 each) and Rajasthan (2).

The agency quoted officials stating that Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting wherein the searches at premises linked to the PFI and action against terror suspects were said to have been discussed.

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National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, Union Home Secretary Ajay Bhalla, NIA Director General Dinkar Gupta were among the top officials who attended the meeting.)

In a statement, the PFI, which is often accused by law enforcement agencies of promoting radical Islam, said, “The raids are taking place at the homes of national, state and local leaders of PFI. The state committee office is also being raided.” It criticised the government’s “move to use agencies to silence dissenting voices”.

In Karnataka, NIA sources said, the searches were conducted at the residences of PFI state president Nazeer Pasha, secretary Afzar Pasha, leaders A K Ashraf, Sharif Bajpe, Nawaz Kaavoor and several PFI offices.

Soon after the searches, many PFI workers staged a protest, accusing the NIA of being a tool to defame the PFI. Searches were being conducted in Bengaluru, Shivamogga, Mangaluru and other parts of Karnataka.

Speaking to the media, Abubakkar Kulai, leader of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in Mangaluru, said, “NIA officials had come with a warrant to search the PFI office. I told them it was the SDPI office, and not that of the PFI. They said they had permission to search two floors of the building and requested we cooperate. They took a few documents such as the rental agreement copy, photos of a few programmes organised by the SDPI.”

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In Lucknow, the NIA arrested 45-year-old Waseem Ahmed, chief of the PFI in UP.

In Hyderabad, the PFI office at Chandrayan Gutta was searched and sealed by the NIA. The agency took away computers, hard disks and documents. Searches were also conducted at homes and offices in LB Nagar and Uppal, belonging to persons allegedly sympathetic to the PFI.

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Last week, the NIA conducted searches in Karimnagar at the houses of PFI activists. Searches were also conducted Thursday in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh.

In Maharashtra, the Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS) conducted searches at 12 places including Pune and Mumbai and arrested 20 people linked to the PFI.

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ATS sources said that the searches took place in Aurangabad, Pune, Kolhapur, Beed, Parbhani, Nanded Jalgaon, Jalna, Malegaon, Navi Mumbai, Thane and Mumbai.

“Four offences have been registered in Mumbai, Nashik, Aurangabad and Nanded under Indian Penal Code sections 153A, 121A , 109, 120B and UAPA section 13-1B for indulging in unlawful activities, promoting enmity amongst communities and for conspiring to wage a war against the state. So far, 20 people connected with PFI have been arrested. Investigation is going on,” a senior ATS officer said.

Asked whether the ATS action was in coordination with the NIA and the ED, Maharashtra ATS chief Vineet Agarwal said, “We are conducting our own investigation and the action is in that regard.”

Five persons were produced before a special court in Mumbai Thursday evening. The ATS sought their custody for 14 days, claiming they had been involved in spreading communal hatred and were a threat to national integrity through their activities. Special Judge A M Patil granted the ATS custody of the five men until September 26, observing that the offence is serious and related to unlawful activity and insurgency.

Addressing a press conference, Mohammed Quis Anwar Shaikh, Pune district president of PFI, identified the two persons arrested from Pune as Razi Khan, former Maharashtra general secretary of the PFI, and Abdul Qayyum, Pune district unit vice-president and an IT professional.

“Razi Khan has been taken to Nashik while Abdul Qayyum has been taken to Mumbai. We are in the process of providing them legal representation,” Shaikh said.

“These raids are illegal and unconstitutional. We condemn the arrest of the PFI national executive council and state unit members… Under false terror charges, members of such organisations are framed and their lives are ruined by keeping them behind bars for years. The PFI will be holding protests in Pune on Friday to condemn the action,” he said.

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– With ENS from Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Lucknow

First published on: 22-09-2022 at 07:35:14 am
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