When a Danish newspaper published inflammatory cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in September 2005, Muslim communities around the world erupted in outrage. Violent mobs took to the streets in the Middle East. A Somali man even broke into the cartoonist's house in Denmark with an ax.
In New York, thousands of miles away, it was a different story. At the Masjid Al-Falah in Queens, one leader condemned the cartoons but said Muslims should not resort to violence. Speaking at the Masjid Dawudi mosque in Brooklyn, another called on Muslims to speak out against the cartoons, but peacefully.
The sermons, all protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution, were reported back to the NYPD by the department's network of mosque informants. They were compiled in police intelligence reports and summarized for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
Those documents offer the first glimpse of what the NYPD's informants – known informally as "mosque crawlers" – gleaned from inside the houses of worship. And, along with hundreds of pages of other secret NYPD documents obtained by The Associated Press, they show police targeting mosques and their congregations with tactics normally reserved for criminal organizations.
They did so in ways that brushed against – and civil rights lawyers say at times violated – a federal court order restricting how police can gather intelligence.
The NYPD Intelligence Division snapped pictures and collected license plate numbers of congregants as they arrived to pray. Police mounted cameras on light poles and aimed them at mosques. Plainclothes detectives mapped and photographed mosques and listed the ethnic makeup of those who prayed there.
"It seems horrible to me that the NYPD is treating an entire religious community as potential terrorists," said civil rights lawyer Jethro Eisenstein, who reviewed some of the documents and is involved in a decades-old, class-action lawsuit against the police department for spying on protesters and political dissidents.
See "NYPD intelligence chief wanted sources in every mosque within 250 miles", Guardian, 24 February 2012
Also "NYPD spying on N.J. Muslims leads to calls for state Attorney General investigation", NJ.com, 23 February 2012
And "NYPD spied on Paterson mosque, report reveals", NorthJersey.com, 23 February 2012