TRENTON, N.J. — Muslim leaders in New Jersey say they are angry but uncertain what their next step will be after the state’s attorney general found that New York City police did not violate any laws in its surveillance of Muslim businesses, mosques and student groups in New Jersey.
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Several mosque leaders who attended a meeting Thursday with Attorney General Jeffrey S. Chiesa said they were shocked he found no violation of state criminal or civil laws by the NYPD in operations that many Muslims considered unjustified surveillance based solely on religion.
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“This is a big violation of our civil rights, and we need to go to our communities and explain it?” Imam Mohammad Qatanani, the spiritual leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County said Thursday as he left the meeting. Qatanani said he would not tell his congregants to stop collaborating with law enforcement, but added, “We need from them to show us the same seriousness and honesty in building bridges with the Muslim community.”
Chiesa had been asked by Gov. Chris Christie, who appointed him, to look into operations in New Jersey that were part of a widespread NYPD program to collect intelligence on Muslim communities both inside New York and beyond. Undercover officers and informants eavesdropped in Muslim cafes and monitored sermons, even when there was no evidence of a crime. They infiltrated Muslim student groups, videotaped mosque-goers or collected their license plate numbers as they prayed.
The result was that many innocent business owners, students and others were cataloged in police files.
The interstate surveillance efforts, revealed by The Associated Press earlier this year, angered many Muslims and New Jersey officials. Some, like Newark Mayor Cory Booker and the state’s top FBI official, criticized the tactics. Others, like Christie, focused more on the fact that the NYPD didn’t tell New Jersey exactly what it was up to.
In response, Chiesa launched what he described as a fact-finding review. Further, authorities found that New Jersey has no laws barring outside law enforcement agencies from secretly conducting operations in the state, representatives of the attorney general’s office told the AP. However, New York police have agreed to meet with New Jersey law enforcement regularly to discuss counter-terrorism intelligence and operations, the attorney general said.
“We remain committed to striking the appropriate balance of ensuring the safety of our citizens through vigilance in fighting terrorism, while not undermining the public’s confidence in how we approach that mission,” Chiesa said in a written statement.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who had been out of the country earlier Thursday, said he hadn’t seen the report. But he said the NYPD had recently held a law enforcement conference at police headquarters and many New Jersey agencies attended it, a testament to the department’s overall commitment of working with agencies in other cities.
Muslim leaders said they were told that every instance of NYPD activity in New Jersey had been justified by a lead, but that the attorney general would not provide any details on the nature of any of those leads, saying the fact-finding was ongoing.
Imam Mustafa El-Amin (pictured) of the Newark-based Masjid Ibrahim said he was concerned that Chiesa refused to explain what leads had been received. With the NYPD compiling a map of every mosque in Newark – including his – he said he wanted to know about any problems or potential dangers in his mosque he might be unaware of.
“We understand the need for surveillance and security,” said El-Amin, “We just don’t appreciate how this was done. We as Muslims feel we were violated, simply because we are Muslims.”