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  • NYPD secretly branded entire mosques as terrorist organisations to allow surveillance of sermons and worshippers

    NYPD has opened at least 12 ‘terrorism enterprise investigations’ since 9/11
    Police spied on countless innocent Muslims and stored information on them
    No Islamic group has been charged with operating as a terrorism enterprise
    Investigations are so potentially invasive even the FBI has not opened one
    Comes as NYPD fights lawsuits accusing it of engaging in racial profiling

    The New York Police Department has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organisations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams, often without specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

    Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen ‘terrorism enterprise investigations’ into mosques, according to interviews and confidential police documents.

    The TEI, as it is known, is a police tool intended to help investigate terrorist cells and the like.

    Spied on: Dr Muhamad Albar (far left) speaks during Jumu’ah prayer service at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge mosque, which was targeted by the New York Police Department under controversial anti-terror laws

    Members of the Bay Ridge mosque in prayer: Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends services is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance

    Designating an entire mosque as a terrorism enterprise means that anyone who attends prayer services there is a potential subject of an investigation and fair game for surveillance.

    Many TEIs stretch for years, allowing surveillance to continue even though the NYPD has never criminally charged a mosque or Islamic organisation with operating as a terrorism enterprise.

    The documents show in detail how, in its hunt for terrorists, the NYPD investigated countless innocent New York Muslims and put information about them in secret police files.

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    As a tactic, opening an enterprise investigation on a mosque is so potentially invasive that while the NYPD conducted at least a dozen, the FBI never did one, according to interviews with federal law enforcement officials.

    The strategy has allowed the NYPD to send undercover officers into mosques and attempt to plant informants on the boards of mosques and at least one prominent Arab-American group in Brooklyn, whose executive director has worked with city officials, including Bill de Blasio, a front-runner for mayor.

    Linda Sarsour, the executive director, said her group helps new immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. It was not clear whether the police were successful in their plans.
    NYPD Secretly labeled mosques as terrorist organizations

    Under suspicion: Since the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD has opened at least a dozen ‘terrorism enterprise investigations’ into mosques, including the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn

    ‘I have never felt free in the United States. The documents tell me I am right’: Zein Rimawi, founder of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge pictured (left) reviewing the NYPD files which reveal his mosque had been under surveillance and (right) on a protest March in New York in support of ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi

    Sarsour, a Muslim who has met with Kelly many times, said she felt betrayed.

    ‘It creates mistrust in our organisations,’ said Sarsour, who was born and raised in Brooklyn. ‘It makes one wonder and question who is sitting on the boards of the institutions where we work and pray.’

    The revelations about the NYPD’s massive spying operations are in documents recently obtained by The Associated Press and part of a new book, Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.

    The book by AP reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman is based on hundreds of previously unpublished police files and interviews with current and former NYPD, CIA and FBI officials.

    Among the mosques targeted as early as 2003 was the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge.

    ‘I have never felt free in the United States. The documents tell me I am right,’ Zein Rimawi, one of the Bay Ridge mosque’s leaders, said after reviewing an NYPD document describing his mosque as a terrorist enterprise.

    On the Defence: New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (left) and NYPD Commissioner Raymond Kelly (right) have previously denied accusations that the force engaged in racial profiling while combating crime

    Rimawi, 59, came to the U.S. decades ago from Israel’s West Bank.’Ray Kelly, shame on him,’ he said. ‘I am American.’

    The NYPD believed the tactics were necessary to keep the city safe, a view that sometimes put it at odds with the FBI.

    In August 2003, Cohen asked the FBI to install eavesdropping equipment inside a mosque called Masjid al-Farooq, including its prayer room.

    Al-Farooq had a long history of radical ties. Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind Egyptian sheik who was convicted of plotting to blow up New York City landmarks, once preached briefly at Al-Farooq.

    Invited preachers raged against Israel, the United States and the Bush administration’s war on terror.
    One of Cohen’s informants said an imam from another mosque had delivered $30,000 to an al-Farooq leader, and the NYPD suspected the money was for terrorism.

    Former CIA chief Michael Hayden (above) said a terror attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing could not have been executed in New York because of the NYPD’s extensive spying on Muslims

    But Amy Jo Lyons, the FBI assistant special agent in charge for counterterrorism, refused to bug the mosque. She said the federal law wouldn’t permit it.

    The NYPD made other arrangements. Cohen’s informants began to carry recording devices into mosques under investigation. They hid microphones in wristwatches and the electronic key fobs used to unlock car doors.

    Even under a TEI, a prosecutor and a judge would have to approve bugging a mosque.

    But the informant taping was legal because New York law allows any party to record a conversation, even without consent from the others.

    Like the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, the NYPD never demonstrated in court that al-Farooq was a terrorist enterprise but that didn’t stop the police from spying on the mosques for years.

    The disclosures come as the NYPD is fighting off lawsuits accusing it of engaging in racial profiling while combating crime. Earlier this month, a judge ruled that the department’s use of the stop-and-frisk tactic was unconstitutional.

    The American Civil Liberties Union and two other groups have sued, saying the Muslim spying programs are unconstitutional and make Muslims afraid to practice their faith without police scrutiny.

    Both Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly have denied those accusations. They say police do not unfairly target people; they only follow leads.

    ‘As a matter of department policy, undercover officers and confidential informants do not enter a mosque unless they are following up on a lead,’ Kelly wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal.

    ‘We have a responsibility to protect New Yorkers from violent crime or another terrorist attack – and we uphold the law in doing so.’

    An NYPD spokesman declined to comment.

    In May, former CIA chief Michael Hayden said a terror attack similar to the Boston Marathon bombing could not have been executed in New York City because of the NYPD’s extensive spying on Muslim communities.

    Before the NYPD could target mosques as terrorist groups, it had to persuade a federal judge to rewrite rules governing how police can monitor speech protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    The rules stemmed from a 1971 lawsuit, dubbed the Handschu case after lead plaintiff Barbara Handschu, over how the NYPD spied on protesters and liberals during the Vietnam War era.

    David Cohen, a former CIA executive who became NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence in 2002, said the old rules didn’t apply to fighting against terrorism.

    Cohen told the judge that mosques could be used ‘to shield the work of terrorists from law enforcement scrutiny by taking advantage of restrictions on the investigation of First Amendment activity.’

    NYPD lawyers proposed a new tactic, the TEI, that allowed officers to monitor political or religious speech whenever the ‘facts or circumstances reasonably indicate’ that groups of two or more people were involved in plotting terrorism or other violent crime.

    The judge rewrote the Handschu rules in 2003. In the first eight months under the new rules, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division opened at least 15 secret terrorism enterprise investigations, documents show. At least 10 targeted mosques.

    And under the new Handschu guidelines, no one outside the NYPD could question the secret practice.

    Martin Stolar, one of the lawyers in the Handschu case, said it’s clear the NYPD used enterprise investigations to justify open-ended surveillance.

    The NYPD should only tape conversations about building bombs or plotting attacks, he said.

    ‘Every Muslim is a potential terrorist? It is completely unacceptable,’ he said. ‘It really tarnishes all of us and tarnishes our system of values.’

    By Daily Mail Reporter

    PUBLISHED: 12:43 GMT, 28 August 2013 | UPDATED: 15:04 GMT, 28 August 2013

    Find this story at 28 August 2013

    © Associated Newspapers Ltd