The NIA reached the PFI’s Kolkata office in Tiljala area in the wee hours and conducted searches with a massive cover of CRPF personnel from 7 am on Thursday. The local office, looked after by Sheikh Mukhtar, was the only one to be searched in the state but other offices are also under the radar, according to NIA sources. While electronic gadgets and campaign material were seized in the raid and a PFI activist as well as his brother were questioned, no arrest was made.
The PFI in Bengal is more into the social aspect than political. Over the course of time, it had changed its strategy in apprehension of being banned, and was now into organising protests and programmes related to social work, NIA sources said.
This was one among the 93 locations in 15 states searched by the counter-terrorist agency in the major government crackdown against the outfit. Sources in the NIA said the Kolkata office was heavily searched. All material and electronic devices recovered during the raid will undergo forensic analysis, they added.
Sources further said a PFI member Nazrul Islam Mollah and his brother were questioned during the search operation in Kolkata but there was no arrest from the city. The Enforcement Directorate also searched the office earlier.
“The agencies raided the office without any notice. They have not found anything incriminating and the raids are being conducted as political vendetta by the BJP and, until terror charges are proved in court, these allegations have no meaning,” said Rezaul Karim, the Kolkata district president of the PFI.
PFI presence in Bengal
The PFI held a meeting at West Bengal’s Murshidabad in February, where it gave a call to campaign against the RSS, according to sources in the intelligence. The PFI has had a presence in Bengal since 2007, they added.
Sources further said the PFI has a presence in different districts of the state but its base is strong in Murshidabad, Malda, Howrah, Basirhat, Kolkata, Coochbehar and Birbhum.
According to intelligence officials, the PFI mostly held closed-door meetings at their leaders’ houses. Its political wing is the Social Democratic Party of India.
Officials said over the course of time and in apprehension of being banned, the PFI changed its strategy and activities and have been organising protest rallies, or other programmes related to social work.
The state committee of the PFI was formed on January 1, 2009 with its headquarters at Bhakuri in Berhampur of Murshidabad district. Its Kolkata office is situated on Tiljala Road. The organisation’s state president is Dr Minarul Sk while its general secretary is Obaidullah Nuri Sk.
Sources also said the state administration kept a close watch on the organisation. A senior officer told News18, “It was found that the PFI was involved in the 2019 anti-CAA movement, so it’s obviously monitored.”
The PFI was now active on social media and was an influence on different students unions as well as in social work, sources in the administration said.
The PFI in Bengal is more into the social aspect than political and contested the 2021 assembly elections from a couple of seats, sources said. Apart from its Kolkata office, no other place has been searched but all its other offices in the state are under the radar, they added.
Searches in 15 states, 45 arrests
The NIA conducted coordinated searches with the ED and state police forces at 93 locations in 15 states – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Assam, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Goa, Bihar, Manipur and West Bengal.
The agency arrested 45 people as part of an investigation into 19 PFI-related cases – 19 from Kerala, 11 from Tamil Nadu, seven from Karnataka, four from Andhra Pradesh, two from Rajasthan, and one each from UP and Telangana. During the searches, the NIA said it seized “incriminating” documents, cash, weapons and a large number of digital devices.
The searches were conducted at the houses and offices of top PFI leaders and members in connection with five cases registered following inputs and evidence that the outfit’s leaders and cadres were involved in the funding of terrorism and terrorist activities, organising camps for armed training and radicalising people to join banned organisations.