Banned PFI, and its affiliates to face more cases ahead
With the Government of India banning pro-Jihadi organization Popular Front of India (PFI) and its allied eight units for anti-national and links with terror outfits, these outfits are soon expected to face the law for money laundering and illegal money routing from abroad from Enforcement Directorate (ED) and Income Tax. The PFI-linked political parties like SDPI and Welfare Party are also expected to probe by Election Commission, leading to their registration.
The PFI, banned on Wednesday, was indulging in “disturbing” the country’s communal and secular fabric and “posing a grave threat” to national security by advancing its radical ideology and seeking to establish “political Islam” in India besides targeting Hindu activists, officials said. According to officials monitoring activities of the PFI and its members, a secret ‘service team’ was formed, similar to the ‘hit squads’ whose main task was to provide security to senior PFI leaders and also kept track of Hindu leaders in their areas and plan action against them.
In the past 12 years, PFI covertly organized training exercises, and military-like drills, where participants are trained to use force and violence against certain religious groups, which are perceived as enemies of Islam. Officials said that since its inception, the PFI has been against Hindu organizations and their leaders and the group has a secret hit squad that engages in targeted killings of Hindu activists and those allegedly indulging in blasphemy.
PFI and its allied units have taken a lead in organizing anti-CAA protests during December 2019-March 2020 leading to the Delhi riots, causing the death of 60 persons. Many cases were registered against them which included 51 in Uttar Pradesh alone where the PFI-led platform, Samvidhan Suraksha Andolan, was among those who coordinated the anti-CAA agitations. Through active involvement in the protests, the PFI was able to project itself as a prominent Muslim organization capable of safeguarding the interests of the community.
In recent years, the peaceful atmosphere of the country was threatened by PFI, which has a presence in 17 states, officials said. Disputing the claims of the PFI being a social organization working for the uplift of Muslims, the officials said, on the contrary, the ground actions of PFI tell a totally different story with several of its cadres have a violent history. Over 1400 criminal cases had been registered against PFI cadres and its affiliates across the country including the UAPA, the Explosive Substances Act, Arms Act, and other sections of the IPC.
The officials claimed that interrogation of the accused in various cases showed that the PFI would identify Muslim youths, from poor or middle-class backgrounds, for physical training during which they were also inculcated with anti-Hindutva ideology. These cadres were trained in handling knives, swords, and rods and how to attack specific body parts to inflict maximum damage.
The officials said that there have been a number of instances of international linkages of PFI with global terrorist groups where some PFI activists, particularly from Kerala, had joined ISIS and had participated in terror activities in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which was the outcome of continuous radicalization of its cadres. While investigating the foreign funding trail of PFI, the ED found that PFI had formed district executive committees in various Gulf countries including the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia.
The India Fraternity Forum (IFF) and Indian Social Forum (ISF) were PFI’s overseas fronts and were to politically engage the expatriate Muslims to conform to their ideology and organize funds for activities of PFI in India. Their executive committees were responsible for sending money to PFI in India without leaving any trail. Funds were generally collected in cash and remitted to India either through hawala channels or camouflaged as remittances by sending them to the accounts of India-based relatives and friends of PFI’s members and sympathizers working abroad. Further, PFI had linkages with the dreaded Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh, which was involved in several terror incidents in that country. Also, 21 people having linkages with the PFI had joined the internationally banned ISIS terror group.
Some Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) training videos, depicting gruesome murders, were recovered from the PFI cadre accused in the professor T J Joseph hand-chopping case in 2010. PFI’s top leaders visited Turkey in 2018 and 2019 to attend programs related to Palestine. Its radical activities had attracted the attention of an international radical outfit namely, the Party of Islamic Renewal, which had in April sent an online letter to PFI on Twitter, praising its activities and urging it to organize a ‘Revolutionary Army’ for Jihad against the Indian government.
Pertinently, PFI has also been targeting leaders of the Sufi Islamic Board, who were campaigning constantly for a ban on the PFI. Giving a brief history, officials said on December 9, 2006, three south Indian Muslim fundamentalist groups — National Development Front/ NDF, Kerala; Karnataka Forum for Dignity/ KFD, Karnataka; and Manitha Neethi Pasarai/ MNP, Tamil Nadu, rechristened ‘South India Council’ (a Bengaluru-based organization floated by NDF in 2004) as ‘Popular Front of India’.
Several members of PFI, including its top leadership, had been active members of banned SIMI which included EM Abdul Rahiman (former Chairman), E Abubacker (Member, National Executive Council/ NEC), and P Koya (Member, NEC).
In their oath of allegiance, the PFI cadres swear to sacrifice their lives for the creation of Allah’s rule (Shariah). This oath was administered to the cadre only when he was judged to have been suitably radicalized for the group. The officials said that during interrogation by the ED (December 2020), Rauf Sharief (former general secretary, CFI), had said that PFI runs a secret relief wing, which actually plans and executes revenge attacks on selected RSS leaders.
On the funding part, the officials said that PFI receives dubious funding from within the country as well as from abroad. PFI and its affiliates maintain a large number of bank accounts and receive money through its well-wishers/ financers based in India and abroad. It also collects Zakat (donations) from its wealthy supporters. Investigating its finances, the CBDT observed its activities were not genuine. The source of deposits in 36 bank accounts, out of 85 accounts of PFI, was not supported by the financial profile of the account holders, and activities of PFI were not being carried out according to the objects of the trust.
The ED raided several office premises and residences of PFI leaders in 2020 and 2021 for suspected money laundering and arrested PFI leaders. During the probe, it was found the PFI had created a very well-organized structure in Gulf countries for raising funds and the collected fund was sent to India through Hawala. It was found PFI was operating money laundering fronts overseas, which included the Munnar Villa vista project in Kerala and Darbar restaurant in Abu Dhabi.
In the Munnar Villa vista project, lakhs of unaccounted cash were infused and some benami shareholders were located in UAE, who later transferred the shares to PFI leaders. The officials said the PFI’s accountant during the investigation, in the aftermath of the Delhi riots, told his interrogators that PFI’s headquarters at Shaheen Bagh, Delhi kept crores of unaccounted money, which they use without any accountability. Many cases of hawala money transactions were being investigated by various law enforcement agencies against PFI.
[with PTI inputs]
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