Indian police arrested over 200 members of an Islamic group in a nationwide crackdown Tuesday, accusing them of fomenting sectarian violence and subversive activities, police and local media said.
Authorities have long claimed that the Popular Front of India (PFI) has close ties with the Students Islamic Movement of India, a militant group banned two decades ago.
It has been accused of radical activity and links with Islamic State — charges the organization denies.
More than 80 people were arrested in southern Karnataka state alone, officers said.
“They were inciting communal violence (and) trying to foment trouble in the society,” senior state police official Alok Kumar said.
Police confirmed another 57 arrests in northern Uttar Pradesh state while media reports said nearly 100 others had been taken into custody around the country.
The raids were the latest action against the group following the detention of more than 100 people linked to the outfit last week.
The PFI condemned the latest arrests in a Twitter statement that accused the government of a “witch-hunt” aimed at cracking down on protesters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has been accused by rights groups and foreign governments of championing discriminatory policies towards India’s 200-million-strong Muslim minority since coming to power in 2014.
Hardline Hindu groups have long campaigned for a ban on PFI, which has denied accusations it is an extremist organization.
But several of its members have been convicted of violence since its inception around 15 years ago.
Thirteen people linked to the group were jailed in 2015 for hacking off the hand of a university lecturer accused of insulting the Prophet Mohammed five years earlier.
The group was involved in galvanizing 2019 protests against a controversial law that grants citizenship to some applicants from India’s neighbors, but excludes Muslims.
Earlier this year, the group was also accused of organizing street protests against a state ban on the wearing of hijabs by Muslim students in Karnataka.