To the outrage of some in the media, the NYPD secretly kept watch on Sheikh Reda Shata, the former imam of Brooklyn's Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, even though he condemned terrorism, dined with Mayor Bloomberg and, he thought, had a friendly relationship with law enforcement. On the surface, this sounds like the NYPD unfairly targeted a Muslim it should uphold. Left out of this story is an important fact: Sheikh Shata supports Hamas.
Shata was the subject of a glowing Pulitzer-winning New York Times series in 2010. In one article, the reporter describes him as viewing the Hamas terrorist group as a "powerful symbol of resistance." He condemns terrorism and violence but in 2004, he spoke at a funeral service honoring the founder and spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed by an Israeli airstrike. He told the crowd that the "lion of Palestine had been martyred." In another lecture, Shata bestowed the coveted title of "martyr" upon a mother who suicide bombed a border post in the Gaza Strip, killing four Israelis.
The Islamic Center of Bay Ridge (ICBR), where he served as imam from 2002 to 2006, has a "long history of association with radical Islamic organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, going back almost 20 years," said Patrick Dunleavy, a former Deputy Inspector General for the New York State Department of Corrections and author of The Fertile Soil of Jihad.
A 2006 NYPD document explains, "NYPD source reporting indicates that individuals believed to be supporters/members of Hamas may have links to the Bronx Muslim Center and the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, noting that in 2003, Mohammed El-Mazin, the suspected North American leader of Hamas, was a guest speaker at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. In addition, in June 2003, the FBI arrested four individuals who were seen in of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge and who allegedly had links to Hamas."
Is it any wonder why the NYPD conducted surveillance on Sheikh Shata, when he is a vocal supporter of Hamas and the leader of a Hamas-tied mosque that brings in suspected Hamas leaders as guest speakers?
The NYPD designated Shata as a Tier One Person of Interest. Those who qualify for this designation have a "threat potential based on their position at a particular location, links to an organization, overseas links and/or criminal history." It is very possible that the NYPD has even more concerning information about Shata and his mosque than is available to the public.
The ICBR first came under the microscope in 1994 when a Lebanese-Palestinian immigrant named Rashad Baz fired upon a van full of Hasidic Jews on the Brooklyn Bridge, killing a 16-year old, in retaliation for a massacre on Muslims in Hebron, Israel. According to two witnesses, the attack came shortly after Baz attended a service at the ICBR where the speaker said, "This takes the mask off the Jews" and "It shows them to be racist and fascist, as bad as the Nazis. Palestinians are suffering from the occupation, and it's time to end it." A witness said that he left the service in a rage. Two of Baz's family members helped him hide his weapons and were in contact with a member of Hamas. Two terrorist groups, Hamas and Hezbollah, praised him.
In 1998, a speaker at ICBR reportedly said that Jews murdered Mohammed, Islam's Prophet, and will forever wage war against Muslims. He vocally support jihad against Israel and distributed Hamas propaganda. Though these incidents happened before Sheikh Shata's arrival in 2002, it is important because it tells us about the leadership that chose him.
The NYPD also had good reason to keep a close eye on things in Bay Ridge, as there were several expressions of extremism. In August 2004, Shahawar Matin Siraj and James Elshafay were arrested for planning to bomb a New York City subway station. Siraj worked at the bookstore adjacent to ICBR, where the two met. During Siraj's trial, his attorney said the "entire Muslim community in Bay Ridge, the thought that the American government was responsible for bringing down the towers on 9/11 was common."
On Memorial Day in 2006, graffiti praising the Palestinian Liberation Organization was sprayed on cars, trees and homes. Notably, only houses that displayed the American flag were victimized. A 12-year old boy was arrested.
In May 2006, hundreds of Palestinians and anti-Israel activists held a rally in Bay Ridge and chanted, "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." For that to happen, that means Israel must be destroyed. In January 2009, a hacker struck the Bay Ridge Jewish Center's website and had it display the words, "Death to Israel" and "For Palestine For Gazza [sic] For Hamas."
Sheikh Shata left the ICBR in 2006 and now is the imam of the Islamic Society of Monmouth County in New Jersey. His website states that he is known for his "moderate" interpretation of Sharia Law, but "moderate" compared to what? He told the Times that he is a moderate because he opposes suicide bombings of civilians, but approves of violence against Israeli soldiers in defense. He said that when he taught Sharia Law in Saudi Arabia from 1990 to 1995, he found them to be overly strict. In other words, he is a moderate because there's worse out there.
Shata won't shake a woman's hand and supports banning music that "encourages sexual desire." Shata's website doesn't have many sermons by him, but one is titled, "Why They Hate Islam." The sermon goes through five reasons why "we [Muslims] are prey for many predators" and why Muslims are targeted by "these animals" even in their own homes.
The first reason is because Islam was created by Allah and Islam's enemies are controlled by Satan. He explains that Allah created good and evil, with the good being created in the East, and the struggle never ended. Obviously, that means that the West is where Satan/evil was created.
The second reason is "widespread ignorance." The third reason is that there are people in "high, influential positions" that get rich off of destroying the lives of Muslims and promoting segregation. The fourth is "overwhelming fear," particularly of "Islamic politics." Sheikh Shata criticizes the notion that "if a nation is ruled by Islam," it will be war-like. In other words, the creation of an Islamic State (which is the goal of Hamas and its parent organization, Muslim Brotherhood) is a good thing. The final reason is "cursed, strict ideals and stubbornness."
Shata's website indicates he is also a frequent guest lecturer at the Islamic Society of Passaic County in Paterson, N.J., another mosque with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, led by Imam Mohammed Qatanani.
The case of Shata is part of an overall lesson. Participating in interfaith events, friendly engagements with public officials and meetings with government agencies doesn't automatically make someone a moderate. In fact, Islamist extremist groups usually do these kinds of things.
The real story here is that the NYPD decided it would be prudent to conduct surveillance on a mosque with a history of ties with Islamic extremism and its leader, who supports Hamas. If the NYPD declined to do that, that would be the real scandal.
Ryan Mauro is ClarionProject.org's National Security analyst and a fellow with the Clarion Fund. He is the founder of WorldThreats.com and a frequent security analyst for Fox News.
This article is sponsored by the The Institute on Religion and Democracy.