Len Levitt: A Brooklyn Mosque: Ground Zero for Spying
A Brooklyn Mosque: Ground Zero for Spying
When it comes to the threat of terrorism versus the NYPD’s pervasive spying on Muslims, the At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn is where the rubber meets the road.
The mosque is one of six plaintiffs, charging in a lawsuit filed last month by the American and New York and Civil Liberties Unions, that the NYPD has unlawfully and unconstitutionally engaged in “religious profiling and suspicionless surveillance of Muslim New Yorkers.”
Documents from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, which were sent to NYPD Confidential and the Associated Press after the AP’s initial article in its Pulitzer-prize-winning series, tell a different story.
The documents reveal that the department suspected At-Taqwa was a front for terrorism.
The lawsuit describes At-Taqwa – an imposing sandstone-like building that fills an entire block on the corner of Bedford and Fulton Streets in Bedford Stuyvesant – as “an important daily gathering space for its congregants.
“In addition to prayer services five times a day,” the lawsuit says, At-Taqwa “provides its congregants and the community with classes on religious topics and religious and personal counsel from mosque’s staff.”
At-Taqwa is led by Imam Siraj Wahhaj — an African-American convert who joined, then renounced the Nation of Islam of Elijah Mohammed, then founded At-Taqwa in 1981.
According to his biography, as described by Wikipedia, in 1988 he also worked with the police to close down at least one neighborhood crack house. The lawsuit says he is now “a clergy liaison for the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau.”
The lawsuit also names Osman A. Adam as the mosque’s Assistant Imam and Ali Abdul Karim as its head of security. Karim, says the lawsuit, also “serves a ministerial role, counseling congregants and lecturing on Islamic topics,” and serves as a volunteer chaplain for the Department of Correction on Riker’s Island.
The NYPD sees the mosque and its leaders very differently.
Its Intelligence Division’s 2006 “Strategic Posture” report, citing the city’s 250 mosques, lists At-Taqwa as one of nine “Tier One Mosques of Concern.”
It calls At-Taqwa a “1993 WTC [World Trade Center] Terror Cell.”
The Strategic Posture report says that the NYPD spied on the mosque with an undercover, an informant and “Demographics,” the latter an apparent reference to the controversial Demographics Unit, which was established with the assistance of the CIA and which the AP described as the unit that canvassed different Muslim communities.
The report also lists At-Taqwa as one of the “Top Five Mosques Called from Prisons,” and notes that a “Large number of congregants are ex-convicts.”
Then there is Imam Wahhaj.
The report lists him as a “Tier One Person of Interest,” and calls him an unindicted co-conspirator of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The report provides no explanation of how or why prosecutors came to that designation. Law enforcement officials say such information is in secret, sealed grand jury minutes, unavailable to the public.
The report calls Osman Adam – who the Intelligence report refers to as “Othman” – a “Tier Two Person of Interest,” and calls Karim a “Tier Three Person of Interest,” noting that he taught martial arts at At-Taqwa.
According to the lawsuit, in 2004 or 2005, the NYPD installed a surveillance camera outside At-Taqwa, “prominently marked with the Department’s insignia.” The camera lens pointed toward mosque’s entrance, says the lawsuit, demonstrating that the mosque was under NYPD surveillance.
Amidst congregants’ concerns, the lawsuit says that mosque leaders asked the commanding officer of the NYPD’s 79th precinct’s Community Affairs Liaison to remove the camera. Instead, the camera was moved across the street but, says the lawsuit “It remains pointed at At-Taqwa today.”
Surveillance was intensified in October, 2006, following the Corey Lidle plane crash. Within 24 hours after Lidle, a NY Yankee pitcher, died from accidentally crashing his plane into a Manhattan high-rise, the NYPD was searching for a terrorism connection.
According to an Intelligence Unit “Note,” dated Oct., 16, 2006, the NYPD contacted informants and undercovers in at least five mosques and Islamic Centers around the city and in New Jersey to gauge reaction to the crash. One of the mosques was At-Taqwa. [See NYPD Confidential, Mar. 5, 2012.]
On Oct. 13, 2006, according to the Intelligence Note, a confidential police informant reported that a congregant seemed upset by news of Lidle’s plane crash. For reasons that remain unclear, police moved to get a record of his phone calls.
“In summary,” said the Note, “there is no known chatter indicating either happiness over the crash, regret that it was not a terrorist attack, or interest in carrying out an attack by similar method. That said, the investigator has stated that a follow up will be conducted on the individual.”
According to the lawsuit, in 2012, for reasons that are also unclear, police sent another informant, Shamiur Rahman, to the mosque.
The lawsuit says that Imam Adam and others suspected Rahman was an informant and complained he was questioning congregants about the 9/ll attack and about Osama bin Laden, saying that Muslims should “take actions and do something.”
According to the lawsuit, Adam told Rahman not to discuss historical events like 9/ll ll or bin Laden or he would be banned from the mosque.
Rahman has since publicly admitted, and renounced, his spying.
Wahhaj has refused this reporter’s attempts through intermediaries over the past year to meet.
Last month, this reporter visited At-Taqwa. An official said Wahhaj was unavailable.
Police spokesman Paul Browne has also refused to respond.
COMMISSION CITY. No less than three government commissions were displayed last week.
Governor Cuomo announced a commission to investigate corruption in the state legislature. [Ha ha.]
Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes announced a commissioner [composed largely of his friends] to investigate himself.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly announced the results of his commission, formed two and a half years ago, to investigate whether NYPD officers systemically downgraded crimes.
Forming commissions are officials’ ways of stalling or obscuring facts from the public.
Kelly stalled for two years before releasing his commission’s report. Although it was dated April, he released it just before the July 4th weekend.
What the report actually means, no one can say for sure.
But what we know is this: When the chairman of the Mayor’s Commission to Combat Police Corruption tried to investigate these allegations in 2005, Kelly refused to cooperate.
When similar allegations by police whistle-blower Adrian Schoolcraft resurfaced in 2010 about the 81st precinct, Kelly announced his own commission.
Probably the most interesting claim was made by Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman. Although the report cited his reporting, he wrote he had been barred by Deputy Commissioner Paul Brown from the news conference announcing the commission’s findings.
THE GREAT BRIDGE. Yet a second civilian has breached the NYPD’s vaunted security at the Brooklyn Bridge.
Since 2002 when people were so scared from 9/ll that they believed anything he told them, Kelly has made an extra special big deal of the Bridge’s iconic importance to terrorists.
Back then, he announced that the NYPD’s presence at the bridge had foiled a terrorist attack.
No matter that this was hyperbole. [We’re being kind here.]
Because of the ongoing terrorist threat, Kelly announced he was stationing patrol cars at each bridge approach 24/7. Ditto for a police boat to patrol the East River waters beneath it.
Then a year ago, something unbelievable happened.
A home-grown graffiti artist was somehow able to avoid police scrutiny and climb to one of the bridge’s stanchions 119 feet over the East River and tag his name, “Lewy BTM,”‘ in three places. [See NYPD Confidential, July 9, 2012.]
And this past July 4, despite Kelly’s pledge of extra bridge security, something else happened.
“A crafty daredevil,” as one news account described him, was somehow able to rappel down a water hose from the bridge and safely land atop a one-story NYPD car repair facility.
According to the account, helicopters buzzed overhead as investigators looked for surveillance footage that may help identify the suspect, who was described as “young, healthy (and) strong.”