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May 14, 2014

NYPD coerced Muslim immigrants to become spies

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Seven million strong American Muslim community was alarmed by the New York Times Saturday (May 11, 2014) report that the New York Police Department (NYPD) coerced Muslim immigrants who were arrested for infractions as minor as an argument over a parking ticket to become informants to spy on their community.

It may be recalled that in August 2011, the Muslim community was shocked to know about the NYPD program of surveillance of the Muslims. Again in August 2013, the New York Times reported that the NYPD has secretly designated mosques as “terrorist organizations.”

On Saturday, The New York Times reported that a squad of detectives, known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, combs city jails for Muslims and questions them about which mosque they attend, whether they celebrate Muslim holidays or have gone on pilgrimage to Mecca and about their prayer habits.

Detainees would then be asked to spy on Muslim businesses and mosques.

The New York Times reported that a few years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a squad of detectives, known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has combed the city’s jails for immigrants — predominantly Muslims — who might be persuaded to become police informants, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

The paper pointed out that last month, the Police Department announced it had disbanded a controversial surveillance unit that had sent plainclothes detectives into Muslim communities to listen in on conversations and build detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped. But the continuing work of the debriefing team shows that the department has not backed away from other counterterrorism initiatives that it created in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the paper emphasized.

Alarmingly, in the first quarter of this year the team conducted 220 interviews, the New York Times quoted police officials as saying.

Some reports written by detectives after debriefing sessions noted whether a prisoner attended mosque, celebrated Muslim holidays or had made a pilgrimage to Mecca, the paper reported adding:

"Debriefing Prisoners Detectives have long relied on informants, including drug addicts and underworld figures. But the informants are typically asked to provide information about crimes they know about or other criminals with whom they are acquainted. By contrast, the Citywide Debriefing Team has sought to recruit Muslims regardless of what they know."

Graphic details

The New York Times provided graphic detail of two Muslim prisoners. One such prisoner was an Afghani, Bayjan Abrahimi:

"Bayjan Abrahimi, the food cart vendor from Afghanistan, was expecting to be released quickly after his arrest in March 2009 because of a dispute over a parking ticket. But three detectives came to interview him at the Harlem station house where he was being held. They wanted to know “about Al Qaeda, do you know these people?” recalled Mr. Abrahimi, 31, who moonlights as a D.J. at Afghan weddings in Queens. Mr. Abrahimi pleaded ignorance, but the questions continued.

"Detectives asked him about the mosque he attended and the nationalities of other Muslims who prayed there. They wanted to know about his brother, a taxi driver in Mazar-i-Sharif, in eastern Afghanistan. In the end, they made him a proposition: Would he

be willing to visit mosques in the city and gather information, maybe even travel to Afghanistan? “I say, ‘O.K., O.K., O.K., because I want to finish,’ ” Mr. Abrahimi said. “At this time, I’m really scared.”.....

"After his release from jail — Mr. Abrahimi is uncertain but said he believed that the charges against him were simply dropped — he never heard from the detectives again, he said. In a recent interview, however, he remained troubled by  the 2009 episode, trembling at the memory."

The New York Times also chronicled details of Moro Said, an Egyptian prisoner:

"Moro Said, the Egyptian-born limousine driver picked up on prostitution charges, provided a similar account of what happened to him the month before Mr. Abrahimi’s arrest. Mr. Said, 57, said he was driving in Flushing when he pulled over because he thought a woman needed directions. The woman was an undercover police officer, and Mr. Said was arrested and brought to central booking in Queens.

"Mr. Said expected to be brought before a judge, when officers led him out of a holding cell. He found himself in a small room, where a police officer offered to make his case go away. “If you can help us, everything will be O.K.,” Mr. Said recalled the man as saying. When Mr. Said asked what was wanted in return, “He says, ‘You just go to

the mosque and the cafe and just say to us if somebody is talking about anything, anything suspicious.’ ”...... He said that when a detective called him about a week later to schedule a meeting, he declined, and “then I hang up.”“I don’t want to be a spy on anybody,” Mr. Said said in a phone interview. “I hate spying.”

I’m one of the Muslims the NYPD spied on: Haliscelik

Not surprisingly, Kahraman Haliscelik, New York City based Turkish journalist, shared his story about his surveillance by the NYPD.

Writing in the Epoch Times under the above title, Haliscelik said:

"On September 26, 2007, long before the surveillance program was public knowledge, I received a phone call from a blocked number. The voice on the other side identified himself as a detective from the NYPD anti-terrorism unit. He and another detective, from the FBI’s weapons of mass destruction unit, wanted to meet with me in person, and they wanted to meet within 30 minutes. It was an urgent matter.

"The detectives asked me more questions—about Turkey, Islam, the Turkish-American community in New York, and whether I knew people here who could be al-Qaida sympathizers. By the end of our meeting, the detectives recognized that my case was “dead.”

Haliscelik went on to say that at first, I thought my case had nothing to do with spying on Muslims, but as I heard more and more stories from others who had had similar experiences, I became convinced that surveillance was being conducted indiscriminately on thousands of other Muslims. When I write an e-mail message today, I do so with full awareness that a stranger who is very suspicious of me is reading it. I feel sorry for the person surveilling my messages, since he or she has the job of a robot, deciphering nonexistent codes in my e-mails rather than having real conversations with other humans.

But I feel even more sorry for Muslim-Americans, Haliscelik said adding: "When your own government treats you as a criminal, where can you find justice? Had I not been Muslim, would that meeting with the cops ever have taken place? Did our conversation make America safer? Would a professional bomb-maker ever use e-mail to buy fertilizer? And, why would anybody’s religion matter? Because terrorism has no religion, and religion has no terrorism."

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America.