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Informant: NYPD Paid Me to ‘Bait’ Muslims

Shamiur Rahman with Imam Siraj Wahhaj

Shamiur Rahman realized that what he was doing was not really helping protect the USA.:

Informant: NYPD paid me to ‘bait’ Muslims

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 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 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 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.

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 in Queens.

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 U.S. more 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 license plates on the orders of the NYPD.

On the NYPD’s instructions, he went to more events at John Jay, including when Siraj Wahhaj spoke in May. Wahhaj, 62, is a prominent but controversial New York imam who has attracted the attention of authorities for years. Prosecutors included his name on a 3 ½-page list of people they said “may be alleged as co-conspirators” in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, though he was never charged. In 2004, the NYPD placed Wahhaj on an internal terrorism watch list and noted: “Political ideology moderately radical and anti-American.”

That evening at John Jay, a friend took a photograph of Wahhaj with a grinning Rahman.

Rahman said he kept an eye on the MSA and used Shahbaz and his friends to facilitate traveling to events organized by the Islamic Circle of North America and Muslim American Society. The society’s annual convention in Hartford, Conn, 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 tabs on the group’s former president.

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

Rahman, who was born in Queens, said he never witnessed any criminal activity or saw anybody do anything wrong.

He said he sometimes intentionally misinterpreted what people had said. For example, Rahman said he would ask people what they thought about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, knowing the subject was inflammatory. It was easy to take statements out of context, he said. He said wanted to please his NYPD handler, whom he trusted and liked.

“I was trying to get money,” Rahman said. “I was playing the game.”

Rahman said police never discussed the activities of the people he was assigned to target for spying. He said police told him once, “We don’t think they’re doing anything wrong. We just need to be sure.”

On some days, Rahman’s spent hours and covered miles in his undercover role. On Sept. 16, for example, he made his way in the morning to the Al Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn, snapping photographs of an imam and the sign-up sheet for those attending a regular class on Islamic instruction. He also provided their cell phone numbers to the NYPD. That evening he spied on people at Masjid Al-Ansar, also in Brooklyn.

Text messages on his phone showed that Rahman also took pictures last month of people attending the 27th annual Muslim Day Parade in Manhattan. The parade’s grand marshal was New York City Councilman Robert Jackson.

Rahman said he eventually tired of spying on his friends, noting that at times they delivered food to needy Muslim families. He said he once identified another NYPD informant spying on him. He took $200 more from the NYPD and told them he was done as an informant. He said the NYPD offered him more money, which he declined. He told friends on Facebook in early October that he had been a police spy but had quit. He also traded Facebook messages with Shahbaz, admitting he had spied on students at John Jay.

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

Shahbaz said he forgave Rahman.

“I hated that I was using people to make money,” Rahman said. “I made a mistake.”

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  • joe

    I support the NYPD’s program to bait the muslim community in NY for the simple reason that they can be baited which makes them dangerous. It ain’t the christians or atheists who are the religious terrorist threat in the US and around the world. Duh.

  • This search, find, set up, catch, report, demonize, legislate new laws, sequence can be played on the drug dealers in every high school too.

    Secondly, by over playing the spy game, their strategists are actually sowing suspicion and discord among Muslims in order to break up the brotherhood and tight bond among themselves that all Muslims cherish.

  • Zakariya Ali Sher

    Its often said that we shouldn’t mind being watched if we have nothing to hide. Of course, that is based off decidedly flawed logic. This is the NYPD PAYING people to infiltrate mosques, Muslim student associations, and even local restaurants and stores, and to incite people into saying things. In any other situation, that would be called entrapment. Hell, the police can’t even prosecute other people who we know have actually committed crimes. Why is our community being denied this?

    Perhaps the bigger question is to what end does all of this go? WHY do the police need to make a database of who prays at a mosque or eats at a restaurant? It is not a crime to be a Muslim, so what business of theirs is it? Unless, of course, they want to selectively exclude us. I wouldn’t put it past them at this point. Make no mistake, all of the data that they are collecting will one day be used against someone. It might just be to get someone fired, or to keep them out of politics, or anything else. Bear in mind too that the NYPD are not spying on gangs, or white supremacist groups, or even non-Muslim terrorist groups. Hell, Peter King was a contributor to the IRA yet he holds public office. I wonder what our British friends think of that? Or the Irish, for that matter, since they suffered just as much from the terrorist attacks. But you’ll never hear that mentioned…

    And remember, speech and religion are protected here in America. If I feel that the US should pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan and stop drone attacks, does that make me a ‘radical’? What if I think its funny that people defaced Geller’s ads? Does that make me a criminal? People might not think anything of these if a white, Euro-American Christian said the same thing, but the NYPD is trying to use these to monitor what we do and that is unacceptable. What business is it of theirs? They have no evidence that I’ve done anything wrong. More to the point, its a waste of resources for them to track our entire community. I’d much rather have cops out on the street looking for REAL criminals instead of worrying how much money I wasted on Magic: the Gathering cards on ebay, what animals I’m feeding crickets to, or what achievements I’ve unlocked in Uncharted.

    No, fuck New York. For all of their claims about being so diverse and tolerant, they are far worse than any other city in the US. Give me the bright, sunny South any day! I have actively been boycotting New York when possible, but of course since I have no intention of travelling there it doesn’t really impact me much. Nonetheless I stand in solidarity with my brothers and sisters, and everyone else who stands up for FREEDOM.

  • Xithurel

    Such desperation to find evil in people; in order to justify the evil they themselves feel guilty about. That’s all it boils down to – guilt. They know what they are doing is wrong and are so desperate to delude themselves that it’s all worth it – pathetic. We can now assume all the ‘foiled’ plots were shadow reports about ghost threats. Because there is absolutely no proof anything they say can be taken for truth anymore. They will plant ‘proof’ they will condemn the innocent – just like the Nazis had done to the Jews in the Ghettos. It’s all happening again.

  • Jack

    I wouldn’t have a problem with the FBI sending “assets” into mosques and MSA meetings to report what is being promulgated there, and pretending to be vulnerable to jihadi indoctrination in order to infiltrate actual jihadi and terrorist networks.


    I do have a problem with informers inciting people into saying radical things and then making them out to be would-be terrorists.

    Going that way, one could also infiltrate certain black churches (like Obama’s former church) and paint people as radicals on the verge of committing terrorist attacks (or inciting terrorism). Or certain white, militant survivalist anti-government congregations, inciting people to spout vitriol about the FBI, FDA and other government agencies, making them out to be the next Timothy McVeigh.

    Heck, in this vein, you could make Alex Jones out to be some kind of Anwar al-Awlaki for the anti-government conspiracy crowd, if you put enough effort in it.

    Furthermore, it’s not the job of the NYPD to infiltrate terrorist cells. They would do better to foster good relationships with religious communities, because they need those very communities to report crimes and give the police a heads up on drug abuse, domestic violence and what’s going on in the neighbourhood.

  • rookie

    “he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler, “Steve,”…”

    Hm, is that “our” Steve?
    Our dear visitor?

  • mindy1

    The sad part is that they were wasting time and resources searching for alleged terrorists, REAL terrorists that did not fit the profile could have slipped under the radar. This whole thing was badly handled 🙁

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