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NYPD labeled mosques as terrorist organizations, report says (+video)

New revelations about the NYPD's aggressive antiterror practices suggest that mosques and Muslim groups are being probed for terrorist activity, even when there's no evidence of it.

By Staff Writer / August 28, 2013

People hold signs while attending a rally to protest New York Police Department surveillance tactics near police headquarters in New York Wednesday.

Seth Wenig/AP

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NEW YORK

Just weeks after a federal judge found the New York Police Department had illegally targeted minorities with its contentious stop-and-frisk policy, confidential police documents reveal the department has also secretly designated mosques as “terrorist organizations” – a label that gives police greater leeway to infiltrate and conduct surveillance on Muslim houses of worship, even without any evidence of criminal activity.

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The department calls these probes “terrorism enterprise investigations,” according to documents acquired by the AP. The policy allows police to investigate anyone associated with the targeted mosque or Muslim community group. The investigations can stretch on for years, even if charges are never brought, the AP reports.

The program points to the scope of New York's aggressive antiterror practices. No other law enforcement agency – including the FBI, which criticized the NYPD's investigations of mosques in New Jersey last year – is known to be employing such tactics, and the new report comes as the NYPD faces increasing scrutiny.

The administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg was already facing a lawsuit over the NYPD's surveillance of Muslims, in addition to the legal challenge over the department's policy of stopping and frisking anyone who could reasonably be thought to be involved in serious crime. The revelations about terrorism enterprise investigations will only stoke the outrage among civil libertarians.

“One of things that’s new here is the extent to which they were designating entire mosques as terrorist organizations,” says Hina Shamsi, director the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, and an attorney leading the suit against the city. “The NYPD has viewed Muslim religious beliefs and associations as worthy of stigma and suspicion without any indication of criminal wrongdoing, and that is unconstitutional religious discrimination, pure and simple. All New Yorkers – Muslims and non-Muslims – deserve better from their police force.”

Wednesday’s revelations prompted the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim groups to call for the Department of Justice to investigate the policy of terrorism enterprise investigations. "The NYPD has proven itself unwilling or unable to respect the constitutional and religious rights of minorities, and it is now up to the Department of Justice to step in," said council board member Lamis Deek in a statement.

New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly denounced the charges Wednesday morning, calling the AP investigation “a fair amount of fiction” on the MSNBC show “Morning Joe.”

“We have an agreement, the Handschu agreement, that has been authorized by a federal judge,” Commissioner Kelly said to host Joe Scarborough. “We follow that agreement to the letter – or that stipulation, I should say – and it authorizes us to do a whole series of things. Certainly investigations are part of it.”

“We follow leads wherever they take us,” he continued. “We’re not intimidated as to where that lead takes us, and we’re doing that to protect the people of New York City.” Kelly also said the AP reporters, Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman, who have written a series of articles investigating the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims, were simply trying to hype a book based on their Pulitzer Prize-winning reports.

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