Three Islamic organizations and three individuals suing the New York Police Department (NYPD) for religious profiling have significant ties to extremism and terrorism, according to an NYPD letter filed on September 10.
The NYPD is under heavy fire for its counter-terrorism intelligence-gathering operations. The Islamist targets of that surveillance and their interfaith allies accuse the NYPD of conducting blanket surveillance of Muslims without justification.
The NYPD letter states:
“Nor did the NYPD target mosques wholesale for surveillance simply because the attendees were Muslim; rather, the NYPD followed leads suggesting that certain individuals in certain mosques may be engaging in criminal, and possibly terrorist, activity, and investigated those individuals where they happened to be, including, at times, in certain mosques.”
The NYPD explains that surveillance of individuals in Brooklyn’s Masjid At-Taqwa, one of the organizations suing the NYPD,is justified by an abundance of evidence.
The mosque is led by Imam Siraj Wahhaj, a very radical cleric that has preached in favor of violent jihad. Wahhaj was also named a possible unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and testified on behalf of the terrorists involved. The NYPD says there is evidence that the mosque was used by its assistant imam to raise money for terrorist groups.
The mosque allegedly has a “gun club” and its security team and some attendees have illegally procured weapons. The security team has been taught how to disarm law enforcement officers and the mosque’s martial arts classes have been attended by individuals convicted on terrorism charges.
The mosque has organized paintball trips and survival training. At least one was attended by Farooque Ahmed, who pled guilty to trying to bomb the Washington, D.C. metro. During one paintball exercise, the security team leader called his teammates “jihad warriors” and ordered them to “form up, jihad assassins.”
The NYPD’s surveillance of Masjid Al-Ansar, another organization suing the NYPD, happened because of multiple valid reasons. The letter states that eight individuals convicted on terrorism charges attended lectures by Masjid Al-Ansar preachers. All of them sought to assist Al-Qaeda or its Somali branch, Al-Shabaab.
The mosque first came under the NYPD’s scope as part of an investigation into one of its founders, Abdel Hameed Shehadeh. In 2008, he tried to join Al-Qaeda or the Taliban in Pakistan. He was convicted in 2013.
Shehadeh attended lecturers by Mohammed Elshinawy, a regular speaker at Masjid al-Ansar and other mosques, including Masjid At-Taqwa. Elshinawy, one of the individuals suing the NYPD, preached to at least four people convicted on terrorism charges and is known to have told Muslims to emulate those that have died in jihad. The FBI has investigated him for possibly recruiting people to join terrorist groups overseas.
In 2005, Elshinawy organized a paintball event that he explicitly said was training for jihad. Members of nearby chapters of the Muslim Students Association participated. The NYPD was told the following year by one of Elshinawy’s associates that he was downloading radical speeches on the Internet.
In 2008, the staff at a New Jersey campground reported secretive and suspicious activity to the NYPD. It involved martial arts and other forms of suspicious training. Elshinawy was one of the organizers.
Elshinawy also has family members involved in terrorism. His father, Ali, was a member of the Gamaa Islamiyya terrorist group and closely linked to the “Blind Sheikh.” His older brother, Mohammad, was named an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to bomb targets in New York City, as was Ali.
Another frequent speaker at Masjid Al-Ansar is Hesham Elashry, who now resides in Pakistan. He is a close associate of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted for masterminding the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Elashry is currently preaching that the U.S. will suffer if Rahman is not released from prison and is predicting terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in retaliation for the Egyptian crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
The NYPD is also being sued by Asad Dandia, the vice president of an organization named Muslims Giving Back. The agency put him under surveillance because he is known to endorse attacks on Shiite Muslims and praises Al-Qaeda associates like Anwar al-Awlaki. He also often attended Elshinawy’s sermons.
In 2011, Dandia allegedly tried to move to Pakistan with his close friend, Justin Kaliebe, in an attempt to join terrorist groups. In February 2013, Kaliebe pleaded guilty to trying to join Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen-based terrorist group once led by al-Awlaki.
Any counter-terrorism professional would recommend surveillance on individuals with these backgrounds. To decline to do so would simply be negligent.
Rightly, the NYPD would rather be falsely accused of racial profiling by terrorism-linked Islamists than surrender its duties to protect the country.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.