x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Muslim leaders to boycott New York mayor breakfast over spying operations

Imams and activists they're upset at police department efforts to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslim neighbourhoods.

NEW YORK // Several Muslim leaders are boycotting the New York City mayor's annual year-end interfaith breakfast, saying they're upset at police department efforts to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslim neighbourhoods.

The imams and activists said in a letter to the mayor, Michael Bloomberg, they're disturbed by his response to a series of articles by the Associated Press detailing New York Police Department intelligence-gathering programmes that monitored Muslim groups, businesses and houses of worship.

Mr Bloomberg has defended the police force, saying last week it doesn't take religion into account in its policing.

His spokesman, Stu Loeser, acknowledged Wednesday about a dozen people turned down the breakfast invitation.

But he said "a couple [of] dozen" more said they planned to attend.

The letter to Mr Bloomberg contained the names of several dozen Muslim leaders and organisations and said they believe such police measures "threaten the rights of all Americans, and deepen mistrust between our communities and law enforcement".

"Mayor Bloomberg, the extent of these civil rights violations is astonishing, yet instead of calling for accountability and the rule of law, you have thus far defended the NYPD's misconduct," the letter said.

The Muslim leaders said they appreciated the mayor's staunch support a year ago during an uproar over a planned Islamic centre near the World Trade Center site. But they said they were disappointed by what he has said about the police department's efforts to infiltrate Muslim neighbourhoods and mosques with aggressive programmes designed by a CIA officer who worked with the department after the September 11 attacks.

The articles disclosed a team of 16 police officers speaking at least five languages was assigned to use census information and government databases to map ethnic neighbourhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Undercover police officers known as "rakers" visited local businesses such as Islamic bookstores and cafes, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicities and gauge their views. They played cricket and eavesdropped in ethnic cafes and clubs.

The AP stories also revealed one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives began working inside the police department in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence.

The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically. Its unusual partnership with the New York police has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

In October, Mr Bloomberg defended the arrangement, saying it was necessary in a dangerous world.

"There are people trying to kill us," he said. "And if the CIA can help us, I'm all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as - if it's appropriate to protect you and to protect me."

The letter noted Muslims comprise at least 10 per cent of the city's population. It said the Muslim leaders wanted a meeting with the mayor to discuss the issues raised by the articles.

"We believe it is unequivocally wrong and fundamentally misguided to invest law enforcement resources in religious or racial profiling, rather than investigating suspicious activity," it said.

"We seek your clear, unambiguous, public support for the rights and privacy of all New Yorkers, including Muslims, and a condemnation of all policies that profile and target communities and community groups solely based on their religion or the colour of their skin."