Abdul Kareem Abdullah of Newark was born in the United States. He became a Muslim years ago, and says he understands the increased scrutiny of people of his faith in this country since the 9/11 terror attacks.
What he doesn’t understand, though, is why the New York City police department secretly spied on and compiled a report on him, his wife and customers at his restaurant.
“If they really wanted to understand,” Abdullah told Adam Goldman of the Associated Press, “they’d come talk to us.”
The NYPD’s Demographics Unit conducted similar surveillance operations of other Muslims in Newark and on Long Island, filming and listening in on conversations where they worship, at stores and restaurants they frequent, and at places where they work.
When the mission was concluded, the NYPD put together a 60-page report about their operations — which uncovered no evidence of terrorism or criminal behavior.
The report, which was obtained by the AP, showed that the spying in Newark took place for months during 2007, and was so hush-hush that even Mayor Cory Booker was unaware of it.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Booker said when informed about the investigation. “This raises a number of concerns. It’s just very sobering.”
Former Newark police chief Garry McCarthy told the AP that he was told by the NYPD that it would be conducting the surveillance, but added that officers from Newark did not participate.
"The NYPD reached out to us as a courtesy when they were coming into Newark. Period," said McCarthy, who now heads the Chicago Police Department.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg justified the operation by saying that the “police department goes where there are allegations. And they look to see whether those allegations are true. That’s what you’d expect them to do. That’s what you’d want them to do. Remind yourself when you turn out the light tonight.”
But there were no allegations against those in the report.
“All of these are innocent people,” Newark’s Nagiba el-Sioufi told the AP. Her husband was nearby, scanning the report. “If you have an accusation on us, then spend the money on doing this to us. But you have no accusation.”
El-Sioufi added that spying on Muslims indicate that police “are not accepting them for choosing Islam. This doesn't say, 'This guy did something wrong.' This says, 'Everyone here is a Muslim.'
"It makes you feel uncomfortable, like this is not your country," she added. "This is our country."
The NYPD has undertaken surveillance operations on Muslins living in New York City since the 2001 attacks, and the AP reported that polls show that most New Yorkers have no problem with it.
However, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly came under fire after it was learned that a video showing that Muslims want to dominate the United States was screened at the police academy. Muslim groups called for his resignation.
There was more outrage when it was revealed this past weekend that the department tracked activity by Muslim student groups in the Northeast, including Rutgers.
The AP story about the surveillance operation in Newark said the report is filled with errors and misleading facts, which make the database unreliable should police ever need to use it.
"We're not trying to hide anything,” Abdul A. Muhammad, the imam of the Masjid Ali Muslim mosque in Newark, told the AP. “We are out in the open. You want to come in? We have an open door policy."