“Blanket suspicion” of the Muslim community is promoted by our law enforcement agencies under the guise of “security.” They will go to the extent of fake “converting,” without a thought or care for the repercussions this has on Muslims. Muslims will now be wary of converts and others who come to their communities.
Sadly too many Americans think life is like an episode of 24 or Homeland and sadly do not care because it is not happening to them. Maybe a web page should be made posting pictures and profiles of these undercover agents so that Muslim communities can be aware of their aggressive attempts at entrapment before it happens.
On the leafy Midwood campus of Brooklyn College, a lecture at the school’s Islamic Society had just ended when a woman stood up and asked to take the Shahada, the Muslim testimony of faith.
Nobody knew the woman with light skin and dark hair, who appeared to be in her twenties. In a voice that lilted up at the end of each sentence, she began professing her new beliefs. “Melike Ser” or “Mel,” was not a student and had no apparent connections to the school, but the students embraced her anyway, excited about her conversion.
This past April, four years after Mel’s public act of faith, two Queens residents, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, were arrested and charged with allegedly planning to build a bomb. The US Justice Department issued a release stating that the women were linked to members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State, and revealed that a Detective from the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau was heavily involved in bringing the women to justice.
Among the ISO members, some of whom ran in the same social circles as Velentzas and Siddiqui, the arrests set off a chain of frantic text messages, phone calls, and Facebook posts: “Mel” wasn’t “Mel.” She was an undercover cop.
Three Brooklyn College graduates who had been close to the undercover officer told Gothamist of the intimate ties she developed with Muslim students, her presence during some of the most private moments of their lives, and the fear they endured when they learned her true identity.
“I felt violated,” said Jehan, 30, who met Mel years ago in the Brooklyn College ISO prayer room. (At their request, Gothamist has used pseudonyms for all the women interviewed.)
“You trust someone, you talk to them. And they were just gathering information about your community.”
While little is known about the case against Velentzas and Siddiqui, including how and why the NYPD came to involve an undercover officer in the alleged plot, it appears that Mel made an aggressive effort to befriend and surveil law-abiding Muslims years before she ever met her alleged targets, and did so at least up until December of 2014, eight months after the de Blasio administration pledged to stop the NYPD’s blanket surveillance of innocent Muslims.
“Muslim New Yorkers are still fighting for basic human rights,” the Mayor said at a Ramadan dinnerat Gracie Mansion in July of last year. “We recently shut down the Demographics Unit at NYPD, which conducted surveillance on Muslim New Yorkers. Because it’s unfair to single out people on the sole basis of their religion.”
Two individuals with close knowledge of Velentzas and Siddiqui’s case confirmed that Mel is the undercover officer identified in the criminal complaint.
Ramzi Kassem is a professor at CUNY School of Law and also directs the school’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project, which provides legal advice to New Yorkers affected by counterterrorism practices.
“For an undercover to be seeded in a community for that long without a specific target raises some deeply troubling questions about the direction of policing in our city,” he said. “Casting blanket suspicion on entire communities does not square with most New Yorkers’ understanding of the police’s role in our democratic and open society.”