Dawn News

Informant: NYPD paid me to ‘bait’ Muslims

Informants who trawl the mosques, known informally as “mosque crawlers”, tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there's no evidence they committed a crime. — Dile Photo by Dawn

NEW YORK: A paid informant for the New York Police Department’s intelligence unit was under orders to “bait” Muslims into saying inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.    

Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bangladeshi 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 jihad or terrorism, then capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police after a string of minor marijuana arrests.

“We need you to pretend to be one of them,” Rahman recalled the police telling him. “It’s street theater.”

Rahman 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 contacted by the AP, he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, “Steve,” and his handler’s NYPD phone number was disconnected.

Rahman’s account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal leads.

Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has denied using.

The AP corroborated Rahman's account through arrest records and weeks of text messages between Rahman and his police handler.

The AP also reviewed the photos Rahman sent to police. Friends confirmed Rahman was at certain events when he said he was there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar with Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by informants.

Informants like Rahman are a central component of the NYPD’s wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Police officers have eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on mosques and collected license plates of worshippers.

Informants who trawl the mosques, known informally as “mosque crawlers”, tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police lists of attendees, even when there's no evidence they committed a crime.

The programs were built with unprecedented help from the CIA.

Police recruited Rahman in late January, after his third arrest on misdemeanor drug charges, which 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, Rahman said, he was on the NYPD's payroll.

NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not immediately return a message seeking comment about Tuesday. He has denied widespread NYPD spying, saying police only follow leads.

In an Oct 15 interview with the AP, however, 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.

Rahman said he thought he was doing important work protecting New York City and considered himself a hero.

One of his earliest assignments was to spy on a lecture at the Muslim Student Association at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The speaker was Ali Abdul Karim, the head of security at the Masjid At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn.

The NYPD had been concerned about Karim for years and already had infiltrated the mosque, according to NYPD documents obtained by the AP.

Rahman also was instructed to monitor the student group itself, though he wasn't told to target anyone specifically.

His NYPD handler, Steve, told him to take pictures of people at the events, determine who belonged to the student association and identify its leadership. On Feb 23, Rahman attended the event with Karim and listened, ready to catch what he called a “speaker’s gaffe.” The NYPD was interested in buzz words such as “jihad” and “revolution,” he said.

Any radical rhetoric, the NYPD told him, needed to be reported.

John Jay president Jeremy Travis said Tuesday that police had not told the school about the surveillance. He did not say whether he believed the tactic was appropriate.

“As an academic institution, we are committed to the free expression of ideas and to creating a safe learning environment for all of our students,” he said in a written statement.

“We are working closely with our Muslim students to affirm their rights and to reassure them that we support their organization and freedom to assemble.”

Talha Shahbaz, then the vice president of the student group, met Rahman at the event. As Karim was finishing his talk on Malcolm X’s legacy, Rahman told Shahbaz that he wanted to know more about the student group. They had briefly attended the same high school.

Rahman said he wanted to turn his life around and stop using drugs, and said he believed Islam could provide a purpose in life. In the following days, Rahman friended him on Facebook and the two exchanged phone numbers. Shahbaz, a Pakistani who came to the US more than three years ago, introduced Rahman to other Muslims.

“He was telling us how he loved Islam and it’s changing him,” said Asad Dandia, who also became friends with Rahman.

Secretly, Rahman was mining his new friends for details about their lives, taking pictures of them when they ate at restaurants and writing down licence plates on the orders of the NYPD.

Rahman said he kept an eye on the MSA and used Shahbaz and his friends to facilitate travelling to events organised by the Islamic Circle of North America and Muslim American Society. The society’s annual convention in Connecticut draws a large number of Muslims and plenty of attention from the NYPD. According to NYPD documents obtained by the AP, the NYPD sent three informants there in 2008 and was keeping an eye on the group’s former president.

Rahman was told to spy on the speakers and collect information. The conference was called “Defending Religious Freedom.” Shahbaz paid Rahman’s travel expenses.

Rahman said he eventually tired of spying on his friends, noting that at times they delivered food to needy Muslim families. He told friends on Facebook in early October that he had been a police spy but had quit.

“I was an informant for the NYPD, for a little while, to investigate terrorism,” he wrote on Facebook Oct 2. He said he no longer thought it was right. Perhaps he had been hunting terrorists, he said, “but I doubt it.’’

“Just wanted you to know. I forgive you,” Shahbaz wrote to Rahman in a Facebook message.

Comments (54) Closed

Oct 24, 2012 12:59pm
Why this criticism ? 'Create and capture' is the approach world-wide. Only a motivated person will get trapped. They have every right to protect their city and country.
Oct 24, 2012 12:19pm
because v want NYPD to spy on other alien societies too! why only muslims? and for yur sake, talibans are not muslims!! they just think they are..we, the muslims are against their interpretation of islam!
Bakhtawer Bilal
Oct 24, 2012 01:36pm
catching the criminals is great. Baiting them, luring them is wrong. You first taint them, and then report. Shameful.
Oct 26, 2012 05:55am
TTP is saying that you are not defining Islam correctly :).
Raw is War
Oct 26, 2012 03:08am
Other communities do not kill people for their religion.
Oct 26, 2012 04:33am
Actually, terrorist's are defined as people that engage in acts of terrorism and terrorism is further defined as he use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims. According to the definition then, majority of the terrorists are not Muslims.
Oct 24, 2012 12:20pm
This is a standard law enforcement method used against all kinds of criminals, why should extremists get a break? Thank you NYPD for being pro-active and keeping our city safe.
Oct 25, 2012 01:57pm
Would love to see how you'll react if your phones, emails & family affairs were tracked by NYPD. True picture of so called 'Freedom of Speech'.
Oct 24, 2012 07:03pm
and still muslims die to get a US visa. shame on us not the US agencies it is that we are not strong enough so they oppress us!
Oct 24, 2012 03:18pm
doing things to protect is ok but dabbing entire community as suspicious is against basic human rights .Donot do the same things taliban do then what is the difference,we call ourselves champion of human rights
Oct 24, 2012 10:18pm
Seems like you have your mind pretty set about that Sue? The answer is, any self respecting Muslim whose brother is involved in crime or injustice.
Oct 24, 2012 10:17am
Go on Ali, you can be a good informant. You are natural man. Get into TTP and let us know what they are planning next.
universal truth
Oct 24, 2012 03:13pm
jewish community never invlove themselves into destructive activities So no one need to spy on them.They are not a threats to human existance..
Oct 25, 2012 04:04pm
This is pretty much standard procedure in US. Law enforcement will monitor any group that represents a threat to anyone regardless race, religion, nationality, or political affiliation. You should try this in Pakistan. You'd have fewer problems.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 24, 2012 06:44pm
Yes. The police use drug addicts and prostitutes in the same way. They can't see the criminals from their office window.
Akbar Khan
Oct 24, 2012 12:30pm
I, personally, know few guys that have been informants for FBI and they were dragged into the net because of their immigrant nature and their vulnerability to deportation. USA use them and quiet frankly that's a correct strategy too i.e. USE THEM and DUMP THEM. If anyone thinks that USA is all clean than that's their imagination. USA is dirty beyond anyones imagination. Only good thing about USA is that it is dirty with "dirty people inside USA", outside USA it does not matter, what matters is USA interest.
Oct 25, 2012 01:43pm
Prevention is always better than cure...
Ali Khan
Oct 24, 2012 03:06pm
But Muslims are not the only one committed terrorism acts in USA. Christian's and Jews are equally involved like Oklahoma City bombing of Federal Building and Sikh massacre at Gurduwara. Why not monitor them
Oct 25, 2012 05:07am
How often do you visit the US and meet people who live there, like myself, to know it's "dirty?" I assume you hate the assumption that every Pakistani is a terrorist, as do I.... then why generalize every American? Generalizations get people nowhere. Neither does a closed mind. Cheers.
Oct 25, 2012 06:41am
A person will only be trapped if he has really done something wrong. If not, then he has nothing to worry. All Muslims are not terrorists, but 99.9999% terrorists are Muslims.
Oct 25, 2012 03:44am
Why only Muslims? TTP is of course not defining Islam correctly. NYPD can use such tactics but why against Muslims only.
Oct 25, 2012 06:54am
Tonight, I am really ashamed to be an American. God curse NYPC.
Oct 25, 2012 06:58am
What is safety measure here. NYPD is a doing the dirty work on those wants to show rest of American that all Muslims are bad and should be deproted. This is what they want to do next.
Oct 25, 2012 06:59am
A lot of Hindus are sending money to hindu extrmists. Why not spy on them?
Oct 24, 2012 07:34pm
It is not easy to find, arrest and prosecute bad people. I do not see any thing wrong in creating a network of informant.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 24, 2012 06:42pm
Stop whining. If you live in America get with the program.
Oct 24, 2012 12:31pm
If the same was done in a Jewish community in US, Heaven and Earth would have been moved by now.
Oct 24, 2012 08:12pm
That would be called anti-semitism.
Oct 24, 2012 11:17am
The tone is quite negative. So what? US wants to tell if a Muslim is radicalised or not so that a Terrorist attack, possibly killing hundreds might be stopped. I don't see any wrong in this approach. Brokering deal with Drug Dealers to spy on their organisations is not new and nobody questions it. Why question this strategy now?
Oct 24, 2012 08:12pm
Oct 24, 2012 06:19pm
Sir. AFP is trying to portray that this is a legal issue and against the constitution of the US. It should be treated as such.
Cyrus Howell
Oct 24, 2012 07:08pm
A lot of self respect is missing.
Oct 24, 2012 10:40am
not true --- There was the failed time square bombing attempt. When you prey on innocent people and entrap them to commit terror related crimes you tend to ignore the real terrorist and do not make any friends in the targeted community
Cyrus Howell
Oct 24, 2012 07:12pm
Sleeping Pak. You don't know what it takes to fight for your country. It won't be a game you are playing in Pakistan much longer. No one will be safe without a motorcade..
Oct 25, 2012 11:34am
Shame on USA. Never trust them!
Oct 24, 2012 07:44pm
Asif, Why Muslims? Good question :-)
Oct 24, 2012 10:16am
There is nothing wrong with working for NYPD except for the little fact that they will soon lose credibility as quickly as their government lost it.
Oct 25, 2012 06:26am
A lot of people here are stating that this is a standard practise and are praising the NYPD. This practise is called "entrapment" and is ILLEGAL.
Oct 24, 2012 10:02am
yes there is nothing wrong working with NYPD its just the fact that thay are breaching privacy of muslims there, making videos, mosque crawling as if they are all criminals; which they are not.
T. M. Syed, USA
Oct 24, 2012 12:46pm
There is nothing wrong with standard law enforcement practices. But when a law enforcement agency create situations for the purposes of entrapment, this need to be condemned by all rational human beings. Shame on you if you think otherwise.
Oct 24, 2012 01:51pm
Agreed! It is their country and they have every right to protect their country interest. if muslims don'tlike leave that place...pretty simple. Shame on us and our pathetic leaders we don't have guts to save our own country just like US is doing
Oct 24, 2012 04:38pm
They do not identity threat, rather they create it.
Oct 24, 2012 08:53am
There is nothing wrong in working of NYPD. That is the reason, you do not see terrorist attack till date after sep,11 in US
Mariam jan
Oct 24, 2012 08:49am
you should join TTP as a informant, then see what happens :)
Oct 24, 2012 10:29pm
Aries, According to Islamic law, Muslims are bound to follow law of the land when living in Non-Islamic countries and contrary to the baseless latest news in the west about Muslims trying to impose Sharia Law. Islamic law also guarantees protection for minorities or Non-Muslims living in Islamic countries. Hrleen, Agree with you, law enforcement agencies has every right to protect and they can tap into phones or computers or whatever means to be proactive, but eluding someone into terrorism is different the recon.
Sue Sturgess
Oct 24, 2012 08:09am
what self respecting muslim is going to betray his brothers???
Oct 24, 2012 01:46pm
When in minority , pretend to be secular. When in majority , declare Islamic country.
Oct 24, 2012 07:52am
informants are the best way to catch Taliban & other terrorists
Oct 24, 2012 07:50am
We need some informants to join TTP
Oct 24, 2012 10:57pm
When you have nothing to hide you hide nothing
Oct 25, 2012 12:01am
Alway it's neighbor mistake my kid is innocent. What about personal responsibility . Its come from family,if his family told him human respect first, this thing never happen.
Oct 25, 2012 02:00pm
If nothing wrong, then why don't NYPD publicly admit it of this ??
Oct 24, 2012 01:54pm
This is done to separate Taliban from Muslims otherwise they will go undetected.
Oct 25, 2012 01:15pm
What about what's happening and what has happened in Palestine? Remember Gaza? I guess universal truth gets suspended there.