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At Last, Some Truth From Mr. Truth

March 26, 2012

Police spokesman Paul Browne appears to have actually told the truth when he stated that New Jersey officials knew about the NYPD’s surveillance of Muslims in Newark.

Contrary to the caterwauling of New Jersey officials, the NYPD did inform them of at least one spying operation, according to an internal NYPD Intelligence Division document obtained by NYPD Confidential.

That surveillance, in May 2008, focused on a three-day rally outside Newark’s Immigration Court Building for a prominent, Palestinian-born imam, Mohammad Qatanani.

Qatanani, who headed a mosque in Paterson, said to be one of the largest in the state, was facing deportation for not disclosing on his permanent residency application in 1999 a conviction in Israel in 1993 for assisting Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.

According to the document, dated May 6, 2008, and marked “NYPD Secret” and “law enforcement sensitive,” the NYPD had informed both the Newark Police Department and the New Jersey State Police that it planned to monitor the Qatanani rally “for intelligence gathering purposes.”

The document also stated that the NYPD planned to work alongside both New Jersey law enforcement agencies.

“Sergeant [whose name NYPD Confidential has deleted] ... contacted Newark PD and the New Jersey State Police in regards to the above rally,” the document stated.

“Both agencies will have coverage to work along side [sic] members of the [NYPD] Strategic Intelligence Unit.

“The Strategic Intelligence Unit [SIU] will deploy resources at the rally for intelligence gathering purposes,” the document said. “Sergeant … will contact PTU [The Intelligence Division’s Priority Targeting Unit] in regards to the above information.

“The Newark PD will apprise SIU of any additional information that would be of importance over the next few days. The information will then be forwarded to PTU and chain of command.”

That same Intelligence Division document also provides an insight into the NYPD’s possible interest in the rally.

Unlike its widespread spying on Muslims, seemingly for no reason other than religion and country of origin, despite claims by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the contrary, in this case the NYPD’s efforts appear to be focused on a specific individual.

The document noted that the leader of one of the rallies was a Brooklyn Imam, Siraj Wahhaj, although the document misspells his first name as “Sirraj.”

Wahhaj, an African-American convert to Islam, is the imam of Brooklyn’s At-Taqwa mosque.

Both he and the mosque have long been in the NYPD’s sights.

At-Taqwa is listed as one of the NYPD’s nine “Tier One Mosques of Concern,” according to another Intelligence Division document, “Strategic Posture 2006,” which was also marked “secret” and which was obtained last September by NYPD Confidential and the Associated Press.

That document also listed At-Taqwa as one of the “Top Five Mosques Called from Prisons,” and said that a “large number of congregants are ex-convicts.”

Wahhaj is also listed among “Tier One Persons of Interest,” with a “link to 1993 WTC” [World Trade Center] bombing and to “prison recruitment,” according to the document.

Law enforcement authorities have described Wahhaj in news accounts as an unindicted co-conspirator in that 1993 bombing, but his alleged role has never been publicly explained.

Wahhaj also testified for Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who was found guilty of conspiracy in the bombing, and who is serving a life sentence in federal prison.

The same Strategic Posture document also shows that the NYPD had placed both undercovers and confidential informants inside At-Taqwa.

Earlier this month, NYPD Confidential reported that, following the crash of Yankee pitcher Cory Lidle’s small plane into a Manhattan apartment building on Oct. 11, 2006, a confidential informant at the At-Taqwa mosque told police that a congregant had seemed upset by the news. Police moved to get a record of the congregant’s phone calls, according to yet another police document obtained by this reporter.

Officials from the Newark Police Department and the New Jersey State police did not respond to questions about their cooperation at the rally with the NYPD.

Leonard Levitt's new book, NYPD Confidential: Power and Corruption in the Country's Greatest Police Force, will be out in stores July 21. Preorder it today by clicking on the book at right.

Wahhaj could not be reached for comment.

As for Qatanani, in September 2008, a federal judge— noting that records obtained from the Israelis were “too unreliable to prove that Mr. Qatanani has engaged in terrorist activities” — ruled that he could remain in the United States indefinitely.

After this column reported on Feb. 13 that the NYPD had spied on Al Sharpton’s National Action Network and suggested that his subsequent silence on the subject resulted from his desire to maintain good relations with the police commissioner and the mayor, the never-shy reverend explained that he had no need to placate either of them.

“I am a national figure,” he said. ” I talk to the President.”

As his catalytic success in helping turn the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin into a national phenomenon demonstrates, he is indeed a national figure.

And maybe he does speak to the President.

Martin is the unarmed, black teenager fatally shot by George Zimmerman while on a civilian patrol in Sanford, Florida. President Obama personalized the tragedy, saying that if had a son, he would look like Trayvon.

Sharpton has been leading demonstrations, calling for Zimmerman’s arrest.

As an MSNBC commentator, he called on Sanford’s city manager to fire the police chief, who had not arrested Zimmerman, citing Florida’s controversial “stand your ground law.”

When the city manager demurred, saying he wanted more time to study the situation, Sharpton suggested to him on MSNBC that the chief should voluntarily step aside. The next day the chief did.

Forget for a moment the inherent journalistic conflict of a story’s protagonist with an agenda serving as a commentator for that same story. [Television, after all, is entertainment, not journalism.]

Equally problematic is the Rev’s emotional rush to judgment.

Perhaps better than anyone, Sharpton knows how dangerous — and intoxicating — such a rush can be.

One need only recall the case that brought him to prominence.

No, it was not the month-long demonstrations he led outside Police Plaza in 1999, protesting the NYPD’s 41-shot barrage that killed an unarmed African immigrant, Amadou Diallo.

Rather, it was the case of Tawana Brawley , the black teenager who, in 1987, falsely claimed she was raped by a group of hooded white men.

Sharpton accepted her story, then falsely accused a white prosecutor, Steven Pagones, of being one of the rapists. On 33 occasions, he and Brawley’s two attorneys claimed that Pagones had “kidnapped, abused and raped” her.

Sharpton and Brawley’s lawyers were subsequently found guilty of libel and ordered to pay Pagones $345,000. Sharpton’s share was $65,000, which was paid by Los Angeles attorney Johnny Cochran of O.J. Simpson fame.

So far as is known, the Rev has never apologized to Pagones.

Secret meeting Thursday afternoon at Police Plaza between FBI Director Robert Mueller and Police Commissioner Kelly.

UNKNOWN: What was discussed.

ALSO UNKNOWN: Whether the head of the FBI’s New York office, Jan Fedarcyk, was invited.

While the New York Post’s former police bureau chief Murray Weiss, now at DNAinfo.com, an online Manhattan news website, where he is leading the pack with Manhattan Madam scoops as well as other stories — i.e. the city’s ticket scandal — Weiss’s successor also had a scoop last week: Ray Kelly’s recipe for meatballs.

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Copyright © 2012 Leonard Levitt