By Rocco Parascandola
Backed by a large banner that read "American Muslims Support NYPD," Rep. Peter King and a group of Muslim clerics and activists Monday praised how the NYPD conducts surveillance as part of its anti-terrorism operations.
The rally, held outside NYPD headquarters in lower Manhattan, was sponsored by the American Islamic Forum For Democracy. The group's founder, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, narrated "The Third Jihad,'' a controversial documentary that Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was interviewed for, but later deemed "inflammatory."
Jasser said he wished Kelly "had defended that,'' but he said the bigger issue is that the department's surveillance operations were appropriate because of the ongoing threat of attacks.
"We are not here to criticize the NYPD,'' Jasser said. "But rather to thank them for doing the monitoring of extremists that Muslims should be doing."
Jasser echoed Kelly's explanations of how the NYPD conducts surveillance, asserting that tactics like online research using publicly accessible documents and attending public meetings fall within legal guidelines.
King (R-Nassau), a staunch Kelly supporter, said the police focus on Muslim extremists is not different than its focus on Italians in the Mafia or the Irish in the notorious Westies gang in years past.
"If they were not doing what they were doing, to me they'd be negligent and remiss in their duties," King said. "What they're doing with their intelligence unit is what all police departments should be doing at all levels of government. It's the job of the police department not to pick up the bodies after the attacks have been launched and carried out, but to stop those attacks from happening."
King was introduced by Samir Abdelkhalek, an 18-year-old Muslim from Staten Island and a member of the Muslim Liberty Project, an empowerment group for young Muslims.
"I definitely think that they've done nothing wrong,'' Abdelkhalek said of police. "As a Muslim, I have nothing to hide. A mosque is a public space. If they're worried about something then that means they've done something wrong."
Since August, The Associated Press has published a series of articles detailing the NYPD's anti-terrorism operations in the years following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The series sparked criticism from civil liberties and religious groups who say the department is using inappropriate surveillance tactics.
Kelly on Saturday provided his most detailed defense yet of the NYPD's tactics, declaring them essential to the city's safety and likening them to those used to keep neighborhoods free of drug dealers and street crime.