CAIRO – Following a week of harsh criticism, New York’s mayor has offered a robust defense of the New York Police Department’s secret monitoring of mosques and Muslims students in several states, the Boston Globe reported.
“We just cannot let our guard down again,’’ Mayor Michael Bloomberg said during his weekly radio show on WOR-AM on Friday, February 24.
“We cannot slack in our vigilance. The threat was real. The threat is real. The threat is not going away.”
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His remarks capped a week that started with harsh criticism for the police department following new revelations by The Associated Press (AP) that the NYPD “monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits.”
According to AP, the police talked with local authorities about professors 300 miles away in Buffalo and even sent an undercover agent on a whitewater rafting trip, where he recorded students' names and how many times they prayed.
Police detectives also trawled Muslim student websites every day and though professors and students had not been accused of any wrongdoing.
The revelations angered Muslim civil rights groups which denounced the police surveillance on Muslim students a violation of civil and religious rights.
Bloomberg declined to discuss details of the anti-terrorism programs, detailed in a series of stories by The Associated Press.
But he called the NYPD’s spying on Muslims “legal,” “appropriate” and “constitutional.”
“They are permitted to travel beyond the borders of New York City to investigate cases, they can look at websites, they can watch television to detect unlawful activities,” the mayor said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly also defended surveillance outside of New York City as necessary.
“We have to be cognizant of what’s going on in the surrounding area,” Kelly said.
“Obviously, it would be naive to limit our focus just to the five boroughs of New York City.”
Anger in New Jersey city of Newark was culminating among Muslims, outraged by what they see as an overly broad investigation into the lives of law-abiding religious minority, NPR reported on Friday.
"It's unconstitutional, un-American," said Mohamed El Filali, outreach director at the Islamic Center of Passaic County, during a Friday press conference in Newark.
"If there is a lead, by all means, I totally agree that there should be an investigation ... [The] safety of our country comes first, but not at the jeopardy of our civil liberties."
New Jersey politicians were also concerned by reports of the surveillance operation.
New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez called for a federal investigation, while Gov. Chris Christie expressed concerns about the NYPD's tactics.
"The NYPD has at times developed a reputation of asking forgiveness rather than permission," the governor said at a town hall meeting this week.
Mayor Cory Booker also described it as "deeply disturbing" and called on the state Attorney General to investigate the possible infringement of civil liberties by New York police.
“We informed the Newark police officials as to what we were doing,” he added.
The New York Police have been in the eye of storm over a series of spying scandals on the Muslim minority in the city.
Last September, the CIA launched an investigation into cooperation with NYPD to spy on American Muslims.
In 2011, the New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice issued a report criticizing the tactic of US law enforcement agencies in sending paid informants into mosques to instigate and trap Muslims into terror plots.
The report, themed “Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’, cited three high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions which raised question marks about the role of the FBI and the NYPD in creating the perception of “homegrown” terrorism.
New York is home to some 800,000 Muslims, about 10 percent of the city's population.
There are about 100 mosques throughout New York’s five boroughs.
The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million.
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