NEW YORK // A paid informant for the New York Police Department (NYPD) was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying bad things, he said.
Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bengali descent who has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him to embrace a strategy called "create and capture". He said it involved creating a conversation about terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD.
For his work, he earned up to US$1,000 (Dh3,670) a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.
"We need you to pretend to be one of them," Mr Rahman recalled the police telling him. "It's street theatre."
Mr Rahman, who said he planned to move to the Caribbean, said he now believes his work as an informant against Muslims in New York was "detrimental to the constitution".
After he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police, and after he told the police that he had been interviewed by the Associated Press, he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, "Steve", and his handler's NYPD phone number was disconnected.
Mr Rahman's account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighbourhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads. Much of what Mr Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.
Mr Rahman's account was corroborated through arrest records and weeks of text messages between Mr Rahman and his police handler.
Friends confirmed Mr Rahman was at certain events when he said he was there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar with Mr Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by informants.
Informants such as Mr Rahman are a central component of the NYPD's wide-ranging programmes to monitor life in Muslim neighbourhoods since the September 11 attacks.
Police have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected licence plates of worshippers. Informants who trawl the mosques, known informally as "mosque crawlers", tell police what the imam said at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there is no evidence they committed a crime.
The programmes were built with help from the Central Intelligence Agency.
Police recruited Mr Rahman in late January, after his third arrest on misdemeanour drug charges, which Mr Rahman believed would lead to serious legal consequences. An NYPD plainclothes officer approached him in a Queens jail and asked whether he wanted to turn his life around.
The next month, Mr Rahman said, he was on the NYPD's payroll.
The NYPD spokesman, Paul Browne, did not immediately return a message seeking comment yesterday. He has denied widespread NYPD spying, saying police only follow leads.
In an October 15 interview, however, Mr Rahman said he received little training and spied on "everything and anyone". He took pictures inside the many mosques he visited and eavesdropped on imams. By his own measure, he said he was very good at his job and his handler never once told him he was collecting too much, no matter whom he was spying on.
Mr Rahman said he thought he was doing important work protecting New York and considered himself a hero.