NYPD Secretly Monitored City’s Muslim “Partners”

October 5, 2011

NYPD Commisioner Raymond Kelly poses for photographers next to the new police cruiser, a 2006 Dodge Charger, on display at New York City Police Department's headquarters in New York, Monday, Aug. 14, 2006. Commissioner Kelly unveiled the new police cruiser during a news conference Monday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“Imams like [Sheik Reda] Shata — men who embrace American freedom and condemn the radicals they feel have tainted their faith — rarely make the news,” wrote Andrea Elliot in her 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series “Muslims in America.”

Now Imam Shata is very much in the news, though not for his commitment to fight radicalism.

Today, the Associated Press revealed that the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit secretly monitored the Brooklyn-based imam because of his “threat potential,” despite his never having been charged with any crime.  Department documents obtained by the AP describe him as a “Tier One person of interest” for what the NYPD considered links to organizations associated with terrorism.

The revelation is surprising given that the imam was considered to be a partner in law enforcement’s efforts to combat terrorism.  As the imam of the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, Shata had welcomed FBI agents to speak to congregants at his mosque and even dined with Mayor Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion.

“This was life in America for Shata: a government partner in the fight against terrorism and a suspect at the same time,” writes the AP’s Eileen Sullivan.

Upon finding out he had been secretly monitored, Imam Shata said, “This is very sad. What is your feeling if you see this about people you trusted? … It’s a bitter feeling.”

According to the AP’s report, other imams and mosques working with law enforcement were also labeled suspicious by the NYPD. Imam Mohammad Shamsi Ali — who had been invited to speak at an NYPD conference and said he had been invited to speak at the police academy about Islam and Muslims — had leadership roles in two mosques the NYPD infiltrated in 2006.

The NYPD did not comment on the report, but spokesman Paul Browne responded to an earlier AP investigation into the department’s surveillance efforts back in August saying,

The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there’s not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists.  And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard.

Critics say that the secret monitoring of Muslim partners, like Imam Shata, threatens  efforts to engage them in the fight against terror. “Muslim Americans are critical to our success, and we should better empower communities to counter the Islamist ideology,” Senate Homeland Security Committee leaders Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote last month in a letter (PDF) to John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser.

“The way things are playing out in New York does not paint a picture of partnership and of a conversation among equals,” Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, told the AP. “Spying on almost every aspect of community life certainly does not signal a desire to engage constructively.”

Today seven Democratic state senators wrote to state attorney general Eric Schneiderman calling for an investigation into the “potentially unconstitutional and illegal tactics” used by the NYPD in its surveillance of New York’s Muslim communities. “This dangerous precedent undermines one of the most basic tenets of our nation, religious freedom,” they wrote, citing the AP’s reporting.

The AP’s report is part of its ongoing investigation into the NYPD intelligence unit’s close connections to the CIA — which has spurred an internal CIA inquiry — and its surveillance of the city’s Muslim communities.

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