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NYPD enlisting Muslim informants from minor violators

Published time: May 11, 2014 12:00
A New York City Police Department officer watches the 27th annual Muslim Day Parade in New York. (AFP Photo / Stan Honda)

A New York City Police Department officer watches the 27th annual Muslim Day Parade in New York. (AFP Photo / Stan Honda)

New York police have been recruiting for informants in holding facilities for immigrants, most of them Muslims, aiming to “talk them” into spying on their own community in cafes, restaurants and mosques, documents obtained by The New York Times show.

Less than a month has passed since the highly publicized announcement that the NYPD has disbanded its highly controversial Zone Assessment Unit, or as it is known to the city’s Muslim community, the Demographics Unit.
However, the recruitment of immigrants to eavesdrop on conversations in Muslim neighborhoods shows no signs of easing, according to a New York Times article, which says 220 such recruitment attempts were made in the first quarter of this year alone by a unit known as the Citywide Debriefing Team.

“Are you a Muslim?”

“Which Mosque do you go to?”

“How do you celebrate Muslim holidays?”

“Have you been to Mecca?”

“Are any of your friends radicals?”

“Where do the Somalia immigrants tend to gather?”

“Al Qaeda, do you know these people?”

These are just some of the interview questions posed to members of the Muslim community waiting to be arraigned in a lockup facility after minor infractions. The Times article points to a few such episodes. An immigrant from Afghanistan was asked to act as a stool pigeon in Muslim cafes, restaurants and mosques following his arrest over an argument with a traffic police officer. A similar proposal was made to a student from Pakistan who was placed in a cell for driving without a valid license.

Religion-based profiling has become a normal occurrence at the NYPD, which continues to generate data on Muslims’ praying, eating and shopping habits. The source seems to be irrelevant as, the Citywide Debriefing Team aims to recruit Muslims, regardless of what they know or how distant they are from actual terrorist activity.

Such fishing expeditions are usually conducted during interrogations or “non-coercive sessions” as one police officer put it. However, regardless of how the recruitment process is branded, the subjects have come out shaken and disturbed from such encounters, feeling they had little choice but to cooperate.

NYPD informant recruiters filed daily detailed reports about Muslims in detention. Some of their subjects were pushed so far into a corner they were ready to say anything to be freed. Here’s an excerpt from a report on the recruitment of Bayjan Abrahimi, a food cart vendor from Afghanistan, quoted by The New York Times.

Detective writes: “He spent his ‘free time in a library reading and learning English. Mr. Abrahimi agreed to provide detectives with the overseas phone number of his brother, the taxi driver. Subject believes other family members would help if asked. Mr. Abrahimi is willing, if the Police Department requests, “to attend services at other locations and travel.”
The officer’s report concludes that Mr. Abrahimi is “suitable for assignments locally and outside the city” and described him as showing “high potential to be used as an asset.”

Just last month, the NYPD disbanded another clandestine unit of plainclothes detectives, called the Demographics Unit, which ran detailed, invasive spying operations targeting the city’s Muslim communities. The fruits of that labor led to multiple legal challenges and outrage among citizens, especially the targeted communities already under scrutiny following the September 11, 2001 attacks.