Rights group calls for DOJ investigation into NYPD recruitment of Muslims

Dylan Stableford, Yahoo News
Yahoo News
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FILE - In this Aug. 28, 2013, file photo, a group of people hold signs protesting the New York Police Department’s program of infiltrating and informing on Muslim communities during a rally near police headquarters in New York. On Tuesday, April 15, 2014, the NYPD confirmed it disbanded the special intelligence unit that monitored Muslim communities in New York and New Jersey. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

An American Islamic group is calling for a federal investigation into the New York Police Department's reported recruitment of Muslim immigrants as informants.

"The Department of Justice must investigate the potential illegality of the coercive recruitment of Muslims to spy on their own faith community," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement in response to Sunday's New York Times report of an ongoing NYPD program in which detectives comb city jails for Muslims and persuade them to spy on mosques and Muslim businesses.

In 2009, according to the Times, the so-called Citywide Debriefing Team "sought to recruit Muslims regardless of what they know." Questions asked by the detectives "were not about the charges against them, but about where they went to mosque and what their prayer habits were."

"Eventually, the detectives got to the point," the paper said. "Would they work for the police, eavesdropping in Muslim cafes and restaurants, or in mosques?"

John Miller, deputy commissioner in charge of the NYPD's Intelligence Division, told the Times the debriefings were “noncoercive sessions where people had the ability to opt out at any time.”

According to the paper, the NYPD conducted 220 recruitment interviews during the first quarter of 2014.

Awad believes the recruitment is unconstitutional — a fishing expedition that violates Islamic rights.

"The program as a whole unconstitutionally focuses on all New York Muslims through religion-related, coercive questioning and recruiting of those in custody," Awad said. Muslims, he said, should be able "to pray where and as they wish" without having to worry their fellow worshippers are government spies.

A representative at the Department of Justice did not immediately return a request for comment.

"It is chilling to note that any Muslim who comes in contact with the NYPD will either be spied on or will be pressured to become a spy," Awad added. "Seeking information about crimes and criminals is appropriate. Coercing people who have no knowledge of criminal activity to spy on law-abiding members of their faith is not."

The Times report comes less than a month after the NYPD announced it had disbanded a controversial surveillance unit that spied on Muslims. The unit was formed following the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In 2011, the Associated Press revealed the existence of that program, drawing the ire of human rights organizations and outrage among Islamic Americans.

It "created psychological warfare in our community,” Linda Sarsour, a spokeswoman for the Arab American Association of New York, said following the NYPD's announced shuttering of the program. “Those documents, they showed where we live. That’s the cafe where I eat. That’s where I pray. That’s where I buy my groceries. They were able to see their entire lives on those maps. And it completely messed with the psyche of the community.”

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