On Wednesday reporters with the Associated Press revealed that the New York Police Department had classified mosques in New York City as terrorist organizations in order to surveil members of the mosques. It was also revealed that police intended to place informants on the boards at some of the mosques, in order to record sermons and spy on imams and worship leaders.
According to the report from the Associated Press, NYPD officers had conducted at least a dozen “terrorism enterprise investigations” after the 9/11 attacks. By labeling an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise, officers were allowed to investigate or surveil any person who attended prayer services there.
Because “terrorism enterprise investigations,” or TEIs, are investigative tools used by law enforcement to investigate terrorist cells, the investigations can continue for years, even though no one has been criminally charged for acting as a terrorist, and a mosque or Islamic organization had not been charged with operating as a terrorism enterprise.
When asked about the revelation, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the labeling of the mosques as terrorist organizations, saying, “What we do is we try to keep this city safe, totally consistent with what the laws require.
“We believe that we are compliant with those laws.”
News of the massive spying operation comes as the NYPD is fighting lawsuits filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups, which sued the NYPD for unconstitutional spying programs on Muslims. The ACLU says the spying programs have caused some Muslims to stop attending mosque services for fear they will be scrutinized by the police.
While the NYPD had conducted at least a dozen investigations into New York City mosques, federal law enforcement officials say the FBI has not conducted any investigations. According to a report from Politico, the NYPD’s belief that the use of surveillance and informants in places such as mosques put a wedge between the NYPD and the FBI.
In response to the revelations, Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York in Brooklyn, which helps new immigrants in the community, called for a federal investigation of the terrorist labeling practices by the NYPD.
Speaking to the New York Daily News, Sarsour said the news has created mistrust in Muslim organizations, because people now can only wonder who comprises the boards of the institutions where Muslims work and pray.
She said, “This is a new level of low for the New York Police Department. As we were inviting Commissioner [Raymond] Kelly and his leadership into our mosques — into our institutions — he was coming through the back door.
“I literally saw that document and saw my organization’s name on it and I started crying,” she said. “I felt betrayed.”
Some New York residents held a rally near the NYPD police headquarters on Wednesday to protest the labeling of mosques as terrorist organizations.
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