Violent acts allegedly carried out by PFI such as chopping off the hand of a college professor and cold blooded killings of persons associated with organisations espousing the other faiths have had a "demonstrative effect" of striking terror in the minds of the citizens, the NIA said on Thursday.
The National Investigation Agency (NIA) said this after 106 activists of the Popular Front of India (PFI) were arrested by agencies led by it during pan-India raids in 15 states for allegedly supporting terror activities.
"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 the 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," an NIA statement said.
During the searches on Thursday, the NIA found incriminating documents, cash, sharp edged weapons, besides a large number of digital devices, it said.
The arrests were made during the searches which have been termed as a result of "largest ever" investigation process "till date", officials said. The raids conducted by the NIA were spread across 93 locations of 15 states that included Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal, Bihar and Manipur.
The raids, as per official sources, began at 3:30 am and involved as many as 300 National Investigation Agency (NIA) officials from across its various offices. In a joint operation with the Enforcement Directorate and state police teams, offices of the top brass of the PFI and members were searched in connection with five cases registered by the NIA following continued inputs and evidence against the leaders and cadres for their alleged involvement in funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organising training camps for providing armed training and radicalising people to join banned organisations, they said.
The arrests were made separately by agencies involved in the operation, with the NIA alone arresting 45 as part of five cases. PFI chairman O M A Salam was arrested by the NIA from Kerala, the officials said.
As many as 19 accused have been arrested by the NIA from Kerala, 11 from Tamil Nadu, 7 from Karnataka, 4 from Andhra Pradesh, 2 from Rajasthan, and 1 each from UP and Telangana, the agency said in a statement. The maximum number of arrests were made in Kerala (22) followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka (20 each), Andhra Pradesh (5), Assam (9), Delhi (3), Madhya Pradesh (4), Puducherry (3), Tamil Nadu (10), UP (8) and Rajasthan (2), the officials said.
As on date, the NIA is investigating a total of 19 cases involving PFI, they said. Details of those arrested were not available immediately, but the officials said that the arrests were done by the NIA, ED and the police forces of 15 states so far.
The PFI issued a statement saying the "raids are taking place at the homes of national, state and local leaders of PFI. The state committee office is also being raided". "We strongly protest the fascist regime's moves to use agencies to silence dissenting voices," the outfit said in a statement.
An NIA official 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." The ED has been investigating the PFI's alleged "financial links" on charges of fuelling the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests in the country, the Delhi riots that took place in February, 2020, alleged conspiracy in the Hathras (a district in Uttar Pradesh) case of alleged gangrape and death of a Dalit woman, and a few other instances.
The organisation was formed in 2006 in Kerala and is headquartered in Delhi. The ED has filed two charge sheets against 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 alleged Hathras gang rape case of 2020. 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. The NIA, as per officials, has secured 45 convictions as part of its earlier investigations against the PFI and has charge-sheeted 355 persons in these cases.