In the recent years, an Indian radical Islamic militancy outfit, the Popular Front of India (PFI) has built up a strong network in Turkey, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain in the Middle East, while it also has established footprint in Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Mauritius and penetrated within Myanmar Rohingyas in various camps in Bangladesh.
According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), In late September 2022, Indian authorities carried out a countrywide crackdown, arresting more than 150 PFI leaders for their links with global terror organizations such as the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, among others.
In Turkey, the PFI established its base with the help of Indian students. According to a media report, the PFI sent a student, Noushad, to Turkey ostensibly to pursue a PhD at Sabahattin Zaib University in Istanbul but really to establish a fundraising mechanism. But sending students was not the only way of establishing its links in Turkey. The PFI leaders were in close relationship with Turkish government leaders.
The Popular Front of India was established in 2006 with the merger of three Islamist groups in southern Indian states: the National Development Front (NDF) in Kerala, Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP) in Tamil Nadu, and the Karnataka Forum for Dignity (KFD) in Karnataka. A court in Kerala convicted 21 PFI members of organizing a terror training camp in 2013. A media report noted of a March 2020 attack in Kabul: “Kabul gurdwara [a Sikh house of worship] attacker Mohammed Muhsin, 29, was an active member of the radical Islamic outfit Popular Front of India (PFI)”.
MEMRI report said, PFI has been radicalizing youths in southern Indian states. It said, internationally, the PFI developed “close links with a radical Turkish organization that also provides arms to jihadis in Syria” – as per a media report. The Turkish organization was named as Insan Hak ve Hurriyetleri ve Insani Yardim Vakfi (the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief), commonly known as IHH. “[The IHH] projects itself as a Turkish human rights organization involved in constructive work benefiting the society. However, investigators have found that it is an al-Qaeda-linked Turkish charity organization which was accused of smuggling arms to al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists in Syria in January 2014”, according to the report. For more on the IHH, see MEMRI JTTM report Turkish NGOs Meet With Jihadi Leaders In Syria, Help Fighters Cross Border, Fundraise For And Organize Events With Hamas, Hizbullah, Sell Jihadi Publications, Raise Money From Schoolchildren In Coordination With Turkish Government, November 22, 2019.
The PFI ran a number of NGOs in India and the Middle East to set up its formal and informal network. “Internationally… PFI is getting huge funds from the India Fraternity Forum, Muslim Relief Network, and other connected Kerala-based NGOs got donations from West Asia [i.e., the Middle East]”, a media report said, adding: “Funds are coming from Islamic Development Banks, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth”.
The Istanbul-based IHH in particular has come up on the radar of intelligence agencies in India for privately hosting PFI’s top leaders, namely E. M. Abdul Rahiman and Professor P. Koya, who are members of the PFI’s national executive council: “The meeting of a Turkish intelligence-linked jihadist charity group with an Indian extremist organization bears significance as [Turkish President Tayyip] Erdogan is trying to reach out to Muslims in Southeast Asia as a global leader of the community”.
MEMRI report said, “The bonhomie between Turkey and PFI can be assessed by the fact that the organization [PFI] had issued a statement endorsing Erdogan after a 2016 coup attempt which was reportedly in fact a false flag orchestrated by Erdogan’s intelligence and military chiefs to consolidate Islamists’ power in the government and launch a purge of critics from government jobs”, the report said. It also noted, “Leaked emails of Berat Albayrak, a former finance minister of Turkey and the son-in-law of… Tayyip Erdogan, also reportedly implicated the IHH in arming Libyan groups. The IHH has been identified as an organization that closely works with Turkish intelligence service MIT”.
Although the PFI began from mainly the three southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, it quickly became a national Islamist organization. With funds arriving from the Middle East, PFI made its presence felt across India over the past decade. It launched Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), a political arm; the Campus Front of India (CFI), a student wing; the National Women’s Front (NWF), a women’s network; Rehab India Foundation, a charity; and the think tank Empower India Foundation.
In February 2022, an Indian media report noted that several top leaders of PFI were members of another radical Islamist organization the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was banned by the government. “[Several] founder-members of the PFI were SIMI leaders, including former PFI chairman and now vice-chairman E.M. Abdul Rahiman (general secretary of SIMI between 1982 and 1993), SDPI president E. Aboobacker (Kerala state president of SIMI from 1982 to 1984), and Professor P. Koya, national executive member and one of the tallest leaders of the PFI, who was also a founding member of both SIMI and the NDF,” according to the report.
In Karnataka state, PFI’s student wing Campus Front of India protests in favor of hijab.
Outside Turkey, the PFI established informal money laundering connections through hawala mechanisms in Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, among others. Hawala is an informal process in which a person gives money to someone in one country and in lieu of it someone else pays the amount to a named recipient in another country based solely on oral commitments, i.e., without records. According to another media report, the PFI used Darbar Restaurant as a hub for all hawala transactions made to persons in India.
In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jamaat-e-Islami members as well as leaders of PFI and its various arms such as SDPI and NDF visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai, a media report said, noting that their leaders visited places identified as belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood because of shared ideological and jihadi leanings. In Dubai, the PFI has been working through the Emirates India Fraternity Forum (EIFF) and the Indian Cultural Society (ICS).
In Kuwait, the Kuwait Indian Social Forum (KISF) works as PFI’s front organization and raises money through annual membership fees, the report said, adding: “All these funds are mainly to support the Muslim cause. Rich Kuwait employers are radicalized through selective videos of violence or Babri Masjid demolition [by extremist Hindus in 1992]”. In Saudi Arabia, the India Fraternity Forum (IFF) and ICS are fronts for PFI to raise funds for activities in India. In Oman, IFF, ISF and the Social Forum (SF) work as fronts for PFI.