Muslims File Lawsuit In Federal Court Against NYPD To Prevent Them From Conducting Counterterror Surveillance
June 6, 2012
A national Muslim civil rights organization filed a lawsuit against the NYPD today in Newark in response to the surveillance of Muslim-Americans in mosques, businesses and student groups.
It is the first lawsuit to directly challenge the NYPD's surveillance programs, which were the subject of an investigative series by The Associated Press since last year. Based on internal NYPD reports and interviews with officials involved in the programs, the AP reported that the NYPD conducted wholesale surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods, chronicling daily life including where people ate, prayed and got their hair cut. Police infiltrated dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds more.
Abdul Kareem Muhammad, the Imam of Newark's Masjid al-Haqq mosque, was listed in a secret NYPD intelligence report. So were Muslim schools, Muslim restaurants, Muslim-owned stores - all listed in the NYPD report.
"This surveillance, this spying, without question, was- unjustified. And it was definite, without doubt, an invasion of our civil human and our constitutional rights," Muhammad said.
Farhana Khera, Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, says no other religion seems to be under the same microscope. Muslim Advocates is the organization behind the lawsuit.
"Just to give you an example, there was reference in the documents to targeting, for example, the Iranian community, the Egyptian community, the Syrian community. But then there was explicit reference to the fact that they weren't targeting Syrian Jews or Iranian Jews or Egyptian Christians, but really the focus was on Muslims."
The lawsuit also charges that the NYPD monitored meetings and web postings of Muslim student associations. Moiz Mohammed, one of the plaintiffs, is a biology student at Rutgers. He denies such allegations.
"I personally have never heard it before. And I don't think anyone would actually say that in public because all the other Muslims would not tolerate that behavior and that talk," Mohammed said.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have both defended the practice, saying that the information the NYPD collects is within the department's guidelines which are approved and monitored by lawyers and a federal judge.
"We have to be cognizant of what we do," Kelly told Charlie Rose back in February. "We have to check. We have to make sure that what we're doing is within constitutional bounds. And that's precisely what we're doing."
Syed Farhaj Hassan, one of the plaintiffs, stopped attending one mosque as often after he learned it was one of four where he worships that were included in NYPD files. Those mosques were located along the East Coast from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs, but none was linked to terrorism, either publicly or in the confidential NYPD documents.
Hassan, an Army reservist from a small town outside of New Brunswick, N.J., said he was concerned that anything linking his life to potential terrorism would hurt his military security clearance.
"Guilt by association was forced on me," Hassan said.
The NYPD did not respond to questions about the lawsuit but noted the New Jersey attorney general determined last month that NYPD activities in New Jersey were legal.