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Cory Booker Starts Investigation into NYPD Spying on Muslims

AP | 2/22/2012, 10:04 p.m.

NEWARK, N.J. - Americans living and working in New Jersey's largest city were subjected to surveillance as part of the New York Police Department's effort to build databases of where Muslims work, shop and pray. The operation in Newark was so secretive even the city's mayor says he was kept in the dark.

For months in mid-2007, plainclothes officers from the NYPD's Demographics Units fanned out across Newark, taking pictures and eavesdropping on conversations inside businesses owned or frequented by Muslims.

The result was a 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, containing brief summaries of businesses and their clientele. Police also photographed and mapped 16 mosques, listing them as "Islamic Religious Institutions."

The report cited no evidence of terrorism or criminal behaviour. It was a guide to Newark's Muslims.

According to the report, the operation was carried out in collaboration with the Newark Police Department, which at the time was run by a former high-ranking NYPD official. But Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, said he never authorized the spying and was never told about it.

"Wow," he said as the AP laid out the details of the report. "This raises a number of concerns. It's just very, very sobering."

Garry McCarthy, the Newark police director in 2007, said Wednesday that the NYPD notified him as a courtesy that it was sending plainclothes offices into Newark. He said no Newark police officers were used in the operation. McCarthy is now working as Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's police superintendent.

Police conducted similar operations outside their jurisdiction in New York's Suffolk and Nassau counties on suburban Long Island, according to police records.

Such surveillance has become commonplace in New York City in the decade since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police have built databases showing where Muslims live, where they buy groceries, even what Internet cafes they use and where they watch sports. Dozens of mosques and student groups have been infiltrated and police have built detailed profiles of ethnic communities, from Moroccans to Egyptians to Albanians.

The documents obtained by the AP show, for the first time in any detail, how those efforts stretched outside the NYPD's jurisdiction. New Jersey and Long Island residents had no reason to suspect the NYPD was watching them. And since the NYPD isn't accountable to their votes or tax dollars, those non-New Yorkers had little recourse to stop it.

"All of these are innocent people," Nagiba el-Sioufi of Newark, said while her husband, Mohammed, flipped through the NYPD report, looking at photos of mosques and storefronts frequented by their friends.

Egyptian immigrants and American citizens, the couple raised two daughters in the United States. Mohammed works as an accountant and is vice-president of the Islamic Culture Center, a mosque a few blocks from Newark City Hall.

"If you have an accusation on us, then spend the money on doing this to us," Nagiba said. "But you have no accusation."

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not return a message seeking comment about the report.

The goal of the report, like others the Demographics Unit compiled, was to give police at-their-fingertips access to information about Muslim neighbourhoods. If police got a tip about an Egyptian terrorist in the area, for instance, they wanted to immediately know where he was likely to find a cheap room to rent, where he might buy his lunch and at what mosque he probably would attend Friday prayers.

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