NEW YORK - New York police have been recruiting for informants in holding facilities for immigrants, predominantly Muslims, aiming to ‘talk them’ into spying on their own community in cafes, restaurants and mosques, according to The New York Times report.
The report comes less than a month since the highly publicized announcement that the New York Police Department (NYPD) has disbanded its controversial surveillance unit that had sent plainclothes detectives into Muslim communities to listen in on conversations and build detailed files on where people ate, prayed and shopped.
However, the recruitment of immigrants to eavesdrop on conversations in Muslim neighborhoods shows no signs of easing, according to the Times report, which says 220 such recruitment attempts were made in the first quarter of this year alone by a unit known as the Citywide Debriefing Team.
Citing documents it had obtained and interviews with former and senior police officials, the newspaper said the department had sought to enlist the help of immigrants such as a food cart vendor from Afghanistan, an Egyptian-born limousine driver and an accounting student from Pakistan, most of whom were arrested for minor infractions.
Police officials described the interviews to the Times as voluntary, but the paper said several Muslim immigrants it spoke to felt shaken by the encounters. John Miller, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Intelligence Division, said the debriefing team emerged from an urgent need for counter terrorism sources following the Sept. 11 attacks, the Times said.
‘We were looking for people who could provide visibility into the world of terrorism,’ the Times quoted him as saying. ‘You don't get information without talking to people.’ Miller said the historic technique of debriefing prisoners, now being applied to counter terrorism, had been effective. But the newspaper said many Muslim immigrants had said they felt as though they had little choice but to cooperate.
In one example, Bayjan Abrahimi, a food cart vendor from Afghanistan arrested in 2009 in a parking ticket dispute, said detectives asked him ‘about Al Qaeda, do you know these people?’, the Times said.
They also asked about his mosque, the nationalities of other Muslims who prayed there and about a brother who drove a taxi in Afghanistan. Finally they asked if he would be willing to gather information at mosques and possibly travel to Afghanistan, to which, frightened, he said he agreed. After his release, Abrahimi told the Times he never heard from the detectives again, but remained shaken by the matter.