The New York Police Department’s intelligence squad secretly monitored a prominent Muslim leader, Sheikh Reda Shata, who spoke out against terrorism, cooperated with police, dined with Mayor Michael Bloomburg and was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize winning series by the New York Times. From examining secret police documents, the Associated Press has found that Shata was put under surveillance because of his “threat potential” — because of his supposed links to organizations connected with terrorism.
Shata emigrated from Egypt to the US in 2002. In the documents, the NYPD describes him as a “Tier One” person of interest, defined as “an individual with threat potential based on their position at a particular location, links to an organization, overseas links and/or criminal history.” The NYPD assigned an undercover officer and informant to watch Shata personally, and two others to watch his mosque, the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn — even though there was no evidence that Shata had a criminal record. Even when Shata visited Bloomberg at Gracie Mansion and was invited to meet Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, he was being secretly watched.
The NYPD also kept watch on Mohammad Shamsi Ali, an imam who was “regularly at the mayor’s side for public appearances that touch on Muslim issues.” Shamsi Ali has been invited to speak about Islam at the police academy for the past three years and, this past July, was also asked to host a pre-Ramadan conference. But in 2006, the NYPD infiltrated two mosques where he holds leadership roles, the Islamic Cultural Center of New York and the Jamaica Muslim Center. The Islamic Cultural Center of New York was, according to the NYPD, a place where “radical rhetoric and possible money laundering” occurred, while the Jamaica Muslim Center was described as a “hub of radicalization that offered martial arts training.” Shamsi Ali denies the claims, pointing out that “It’s wrong to view Muslims as radicals simply because of the outfit.”
Furthermore, a 2009 official NYC planning brochure for a bike tour of Queens meant to showcase the borough’s diversity lists as “destination options” two Queens mosques that the NYPD was monitoring in 2006, one as a suspected source of funding for the Taliban and the other as the suspected national headquarters of an extremist organization.
Ramzi Kassem, a professor at the City University of New York School of Law, simply states that ”The way things are playing out in New York does not paint a picture of partnership and of a conversation among equals.” ABC News comments:
The dichotomy between simultaneously being partner and suspect is common among some of New York’s Muslims. Some of the same mosques that city leaders visited to hail their strong alliances with the Muslim community have also been placed under NYPD surveillance — in some cases infiltrated by undercover police officers and confidential informants.
In April, more than 100 area imams publicly supported a rally to “oppose wars, condemn terrorism and fight Islamophobia.” Of those, more than 30 were either identified by name or work in mosques included in the NYPD’s listing of suspicious people and places in 2006.
Shata, who now is at a mosque in suburban Monmouth County, New Jersey, says that “This is very sad. What is your feeling if you see this about people you trusted?”
Seven New York state senators have called for the New York attorney general’s office to investigate the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods. Neither the NYPD nor Bloomberg’s office have responded to queries.
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Photo of Pro-Muslim Rally in New York on September 10, 2010 by Viktor Nagornyy