The American Islamist groups are back on the offensive against the NYPD after misleading headlines suggested that it had spied randomly on mosques by branding them terrorist organizations. Again, the NYPD is falsely depicted as a rogue agency hell-bent on trampling all over the civil rights of innocent Muslims.
The latest controversy began after a book was published revealing that the New York Police Department had labeled some mosques and Islamic groups as “terrorism enterprises,” permitting intelligence-gathering on them through the use of undercover agents.
The hysteria leads one to believe that this is happening all over. The numbers tell a different history.
It is now known that the NYPD opened up at least 15 “terrorism enterprise investigations” since 2003, with 10 being mosques. According to a 2010 report by A Journey Through NYC Religions, there are 175 mosques in New York City. Another 2011 study recorded 192 mosques in the Greater New York City area. These totals do not even include every Islamic organization in the NYPD’s jurisdiction.
Let’s summarize what we know for a fact: Out of a minimum of 175 mosques, only 10 were subjected to a “terrorism enterprise investigation” over 10 years. The actual number may be higher but nonetheless, when the existing facts are put in the proper context, the NYPD doesn’t look like the villain that its adversaries make it sound like.
While it is true that a judge did not have to approve each investigation, a federal judge did approve the guidelines permitting them.
David Cohen, a former CIA executive that joined the NYPD after 9/11, told a federal judge in 2002 that mosques can be used “to shield the work of terrorists from law enforcement scrutiny by taking advantage of restrictions on the investigation of First Amendment activity.”
The problem the NYPD was running into were restrictions put in place in 1985 due to the “Handshu agreement” where the NYPD was sued for spying on Vietnam War protesters. The federal judge agreed that the restrictions needed to be modernized because of “fundamental changes in the threats to public security.”
The new guidelines permitted the NYPD to record speech protected by the First Amendment when “facts of circumstances reasonably indicate” that two or more individuals may be conspiring to support terrorism. The NYPD was not authorized to prosecute someone based on their free speech.
The results of the NYPD’s controversial programs are remarkable. As Police Commissioner Ray Kelly wrote on July 22, the NYPD is “guilty of saving 7,383 lives.” And as he explained, the NYPD never sent an informant or undercover officer into a mosque unless it was in response to a vetted lead. To argue otherwise is to argue that the NYPD desires to violate civil rights and waste its resources in doing so.
The media is quick to quote the “moderates” that were supposedly victimized by the NYPD. One of the first mosques to be subjected to a “terrorism enterprise investigation” is the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. The mosque has a history of extremist preaching. Reda Shata, its imam, was placed under surveillance for valid reasons. For one, he was a vocal supporter of the terrorist group Hamas.
The extremism of the mosque wasn’t included in the media reports about this latest controversy. In fact, it quotes an Islamic Society of Bay Ridge leader who came to the U.S. from the West Bank saying, “I have never felt free in the United States. The documents tell me I am right.”
Another supposed overreach by the NYPD is the installation of eavesdropping devices inside Masjid al-Farooq. The rationale was, as the Associated Press report concedes, the mosque has a “long history of radical ties.” For example, the “Blind Sheikh” convicted for involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Omar Abdel Rahman, was a preacher there for a short period of time. The mosque had extremist speakers, and an informant reported a suspicious $50,000 cash transfer to an Al-Farooq official from another imam.
You’d also believe that the Al-Ansar Center was a victim if you read the attacks on the NYPD, but there was legitimate concern over the involvement of a hardline Salafist named Mohammed Elshinawy. His father was designated an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The construction of a gym and starting of martial arts classes was concerning because the NYPD suspected he wanted to recruit people to wage jihad overseas.
The Arab American Association of New York is receiving a lot of attention because the NYPD tried to plant an informant on its board. One of its founders and current President, Dr. Ahmad Jaber, used to be the president of the Dawood Mosque that was also under investigation. The Executive Director of the association is Linda Sarsour. In 2004, it was reported that her brother-in-law was in prison in Israel for being a member of Hamas. Her Palestinian husband, Maher Judh, has been questioned and faced deportation. She has also been questioned by the authorities.
Sarsour is ferocious in her hatred of Israel and she spouts conspiracy theories that the underwear bomber was a CIA agent, and the NYPD manufactures terrorist plots to frame Muslims.
Keep in mind, this is only the information that is publicly available. It does not include what the NYPD has in its private files.
It is also informative to see which groups are leading the charge against the NYPD. On August 28, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity, held a press conference demanding that the Justice Department investigate the NYPD.
The press release quotes CAIR-NY board member Lamis Deek as saying that the NYPD has “proven itself unwilling or unable to respect the constitutional and religious rights of minorities.”
Deek celebrated the Muslim Brotherhood's takeover of Egypt as a blow to American “imperialism.” When Hamas and Israel battled in November 2012, she tweeted that Gaza is a “beacon of resistance” that “inspires revolution” and “’Israel’ won’t last.”
On November 12, Deek wrote that jihadists headed to Syria should instead head to Israel: “On mayadeen: the question: there are jihadiyeen from everywhere entering #syria, why do they not enter #palestine? (My answer: follow the$)”
Deek alleges that there is a “NYPD-CIA-Israel alliance in NY” and that Israeli Mossad agents are posing as FBI agents and persecution innocent Muslims. She has also praised Hamas and said it showed that Palestinians are dedicated to taking “all of the 1948 territories,” a softer way of calling for the destruction of Israel.
The NYPD has enough on its hands. It shouldn’t have to deal with false public perceptions based on Islamist propaganda.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on Fox News.