By William A. Mayer and Beila Rabinowitz
April 16, 2007 - San Francisco, CA - PipeLineNews.org - On May 24, 2006 Shahawar Matin Siraj was convicted on four terrorism counts involving a plot to "place explosives at the 34th Street Subway station in New York...just prior to the start of the Republican National Convention at nearby Madison Square Garden." [source http://www.usdoj.gov/siraj_pr.pdf]
Siraj was subsequently sentenced to 30 years for his crimes.
The FBI originally became aware of Siraj as a result of it keeping tabs, using undercover agents on the activities at local mosques post 9/11. It was during these operations that Siraj's radical political beliefs and exhortations to violence surfaced.
It was a classic case of pro-active police work, preventing a potentially catastrophic crime.
In a May 27, 2006 article about the case, New York Times reporter Andrea Elliott wrote:
During the trial Mr. Kelly met with members of the Muslim community to show them a short film that the police department had created to instruct officers about dealing "sensitively" with members of the Arab/Muslim community.
Ms. Elliott further wrote:
In Almontaser's insular world, preventing a crime that could have killed hundreds is viewed as "polarizing."
Board of Education's spokesman, David Castor adamantly states that the "Khalil Gibran International Academy...will not be a vehicle for political ideology."
We find that statement totally unconvincing, bordering on the ludicrous.
Almontaser's statements post 9/11 reflect a Muslim-centric viewpoint of victimhood and resentment which will be the sentiment that will be the operative ethic of the Khalil Gibran school.
Almontaser is a 9/11 denier.
Speaking to a group of impressionable fifth grade children in Brooklyn's PS 51 Almontaser stated, "I don't recognize the people who committed the attacks as either Arabs or Muslims." [source http://www.jrn.columbia.edu/studentwork/cns/2002-06-10/584.asp]
In an interview with National Public Radio on July 13, 2006 she likened the American response to 9/11 to that of totalitarian excess:
After September 11, both Ms. Almontaser and her husband joined a group who according to the NPR interview "every week for a year...protested the detention or interrogation of an estimated 8,000 Muslims."
If Almontaser's Khalil Gibran school goes forward, no one will be able to say that they did not know that she will be using it as a publicly funded forum to spread the radical Islamist line that Muslims are every day in America victimized by a government hell bent on persecuting and entrapping them in crimes that they had no intention of committing.
She believes that for Muslims, America is a gulag.
Responding to Board of Education Castor's misplaced contention that the "Khalil Gibran International Academy...will not be a vehicle for political ideology" we have to conclude that all you will get from the KGIA will be politics, in its most insidious form.
Given the extreme Islamist views of principal designate Dhabah Almontaser's and the Arab/Muslim "community groups" joining with her in this venture one can expect nothing less.
MIM: Below is Dr. Daniel Pipe's article with the story of the Siraj case:
Does the New York Police Department profile for potential terrorists - does it stop, arrest, search, or otherwise investigate a person on the assumption that his racial or ethnic identity makes him more likely to commit a certain type of crime?
The NYPD, like every Western law enforcement agency, indignantly denies profiling. Its spokesman, Paul Browne, said in August, "Racial profiling is illegal, of doubtful effectiveness, and against department policy."
But it does, in fact, profile.
A 50-year-old Egyptian immigrant, Osama Eldawoody, a paid police informant and the central witness against Siraj, said under cross-examination that he had rooted about mosques in Brooklyn and Staten Island, making about 575 visits during 13 months in 2003-04. His instructions, he testified, were to keep "his eyes and ears open for any radical thing." The detective running him, Stephen Andrews, confirmed under oath how Mr. Eldawoody "was supposed to be on the lookout for whatever was going on. His eyes and ears were to be open."
Mr. Eldawoody wore a wire and took notes on such topics as the number of people who attended a religious service, the duration of the service, the imam's name, an imam's search to buy a house, and the license plate numbers of worshippers' cars outside mosques. (Although Mr. Andrews testified that he eventually told Mr. Eldawoody to stop collecting these numbers, he did run them through a database.)
Likewise, an undercover Muslim NYPD detective of Bangladeshi origins, known pseudonymously as "Kamil Pasha," testified in the Siraj case about having been sent to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, to be a "walking camera" among Muslims living there, to "observe, be the ears and eyes."
Significantly, the NYPD has no comparable program to surveil cathedrals, churches, chapels, synagogues, or the religious buildings of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Shintoists, animists, or anyone else.
Profiling worked brilliantly in this instance; Kamil Pasha had contact with Siraj 72 times. As a result, Joseph Goldstein wrote in The New York Sun, "Before police knew of a plot, the department already possessed detailed reports of Siraj's political views and his often violent and inflammatory statements, which recorded his satisfaction at the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and his support for Osama bin Laden."
Even after this information came out, Mr. Browne argued that his department "does not engage in profiling."
On the very day of Siraj's conviction, an intrepid Democratic assemblyman from Brooklyn, Dov Hikind, proposed such a law in the New York State Assembly. Bill A11536 would authorize law enforcement personnel "to consider race and ethnicity as one of many factors which could be used in identifying persons who can be initially stopped, questioned, frisked and/or searched."
Mr. Hikind told the BBC that preventing terrorist attacks "is an even more compelling governmental interest" than education, making it therefore acceptable to factor race and ethnicity into what he called "terrorist profiling." A former New York City police commissioner, Howard Safir, the columnist Clarence Page, and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee all have written or said that they agree with Mr. Hikind.
So do I, but with a caveat: While permitting racial and ethnic externals to be factored into snap decisions is a clear common-sense imperative, the ultimate goal is to know a person's world view. As I put it in 2004, "Islamism … prompts Islamist terrorism, not speaking Arabic."
For now, however, the Hikind bill does a great public service by establishing the legitimacy of profiling. It urgently needs to be passed.
Undercover Work Deepens Police-Muslim Tensions By ANDREA ELLIOTT
The New York Times
May 27, 2006
It is no secret to the Muslim immigrants of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, that spies live among them.
Almost anyone can rattle off what they regard as the telltale signs of police informers: They like to talk politics. They have plenty of free time. They live in the neighborhood, but have no local relatives.
"They think we don't know, but we know who they are," said Linda Sarsour, 26, a community activist.
It is another thing for them to be officially revealed. Over the last several weeks, during the trial of a Pakistani immigrant who was convicted on Wednesday of plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station, Muslims in Bay Ridge learned that two agents of the police had been planted in the neighborhood and were instrumental to the case.
They absorbed the testimony of an Egyptian-born police informer who had recorded the license plate numbers of worshipers at a mosque. They heard that an undercover detective, originally from Bangladesh, had been sent to Bay Ridge as a "walking camera."
The trial's revelations, and its outcome for the defendant, Shahawar Matin Siraj, have brought a bitter reckoning among Muslims in the city. Many see the police tactics unveiled in the case as proof that the authorities — both in New York and around the nation — have been aggressive, even underhanded in their approach to Muslims.
And despite the conviction of Mr. Siraj, who was found guilty on all four of the counts he faced, some Muslim leaders remain convinced that he was entrapped, including an imam who knew the informer and had found him to be suspicious.
Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly declared the verdict a milestone in the city's fight against terrorism. Muslim leaders say they support efforts to safeguard the country, but many believe that the Siraj case may have set back another battle that the police have been waging: to win their trust and cooperation.
In Bay Ridge, Palestinian, Syrian and Egyptian immigrants have long engaged in their own form of surveillance, trying to discern the spies in their midst. It is a habit imported from the countries they left behind, where informers for the security services were common and political freedoms curtailed.
In the years since Sept. 11, as word of informers spread among the smoky sheesha cafes and tidy mosques of Bay Ridge, a familiar fear has fallen over the neighborhood. It asserts itself quietly, in the hush of conversation and the wary stares that pass between strangers.
"It's like a police state here," said Omar Maged, 34, an assistant teacher at a public high school. "We do not feel that we are living in the most free country in the world."
In the wake of the trial, police officials sought to dispel the notion that they are taking aim at the Muslim community.
Paul J. Browne, the Police Department's chief spokesman, said undercover officers were used only to investigate reports of possible criminal activity. This was the case, he said, with the detective involved in the investigation of Mr. Siraj. The officer had been sent to live in Bay Ridge for two years.
"The notion that he was in there gratuitously observing the Muslim community is false," Mr. Browne said.
The relationship between law enforcement and Muslims has long been fragile.
After Sept. 11, Muslims came under immediate and intense pressure by the authorities. Hundreds of men were detained for questioning and thousands nationwide were placed into deportation proceedings.
Over time, a necessary, if uncomfortable relationship emerged between Muslims and the police watching over them. Efforts were made by both camps to cultivate trust.
"We've been repairing the cracks steadily and gingerly," said Wael Mousfar, the president of the Arab Muslim American Federation.
These days, police officers introduce themselves at Ramadan dinners and town hall meetings. Federal agents sit on committees with Muslim activists and hold workshops with imams.
Last month, the Police Department hired a Turkish immigrant to work as a full-time liaison with the Muslim community.
But the Herald Square case gave pause to some of the Muslims involved in the outreach.
"This is a real setback to the bridge building," said Michael Dibarro, a Jordanian immigrant who until recently worked as a clergy liaison with the Police Department. "We had meaningful meetings. We thought we were going somewhere with this."
Others complained of what they see as a two-tiered approach by the authorities: on one level it is public, and on another, it is hidden.
"They want to formally be introduced to the community but they don't need to be," Ms. Sarsour said. "They already have their informants among us."
On May 12, in the middle of the trial of Mr. Siraj, Mr. Kelly met with 150 Muslims at a youth center in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He showed them a 25-minute video that the Police Department created to train new officers to be sensitive toward Arabs and Muslims. He said he was there to hear their "concerns about issues of public safety," according to a transcript of his speech.
Only after several questions did anyone mention the trial. Debbie Almontaser, a board member of a Muslim women's organization, told Mr. Kelly that she was saddened that the police had resorted to "F.B.I. tactics," and that she thought this was polarizing the Muslim community.
Applause swept the room.
Mr. Kelly told the audience he could not comment on the case.
Whether it will seriously hinder relations between the authorities and Muslims in New York remains to be seen. Some were doubtful.
"This is a chance to enhance our relationship with the police," said Antoine Faisal, the publisher of Aramica, an Arabic and English language newspaper based in Bay Ridge. "These people are being paid to do their job."
An air of suspicion hung over Bay Ridge well before Mr. Siraj was arrested in August 2004. Some people stopped attending the neighborhood's two major mosques, preferring to pray at home. Others no longer idle on the street after work.
"The vibe is not the same anymore," said Omar, 22, a Yemeni immigrant who works at a bookstore and gave only his first name. "We're exposed."
Conversations are often carefully scripted. Several people interviewed said they no longer discussed politics in public.
"When you sit down and politics comes to your head, you think, 'Who's around?' " said Mohammad Gheith, 17, a high school senior who often visits the smoke-filled Meena House Cafe on Bay Ridge Avenue.
Several blocks away, at a grocery store along Fifth Avenue, Mahmoud Masoud said he sensed the presence of informers.
"Sometimes you look a person in the eye, there's a feeling," said Mr. Masoud, 65, a Palestinian immigrant. "You can say anything you want, but don't curse the system. That's what they care about."
Others in the neighborhood said they understood the need for informers, and were not bothered by their presence.
"They have to watch the community," said Osama Elsakka, 41, an Egyptian immigrant who drives a limousine. Mr. Elsakka said that he would readily inform the police if he heard something suspicious, even if some of his friends considered this a betrayal.
"I'm trying to defend the image of my religion," he said, explaining that he thought that a person who entertains thoughts of terrorism is not a true Muslim. "If someone is doing that, they've been brainwashed."
On Wednesday afternoon, after Mr. Siraj's parents and uncle heard the verdict, they drove to the uncle's Islamic bookstore, on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge. It was there that their son first had encountered Osama Eldawoody, the informer, who lived on Staten Island and earned about $100,000 for his work with the police.
They pulled down the metal gate and locked the front door. It was hours before the store's regular closing time.
"They hate us Muslims," said Mr. Siraj's mother, Shahina Parveen, steadying herself on her husband's arm. "My son is innocent. Eldawoody is criminal," she said, yelling out the last word.
After they drove off, several men gathered for the afternoon prayer at the mosque next door, the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. Mr. Eldawoody had often prayed with them.
The imam of the mosque, Sheik Reda Shata, said that he became suspicious after Mr. Eldawoody tried to draw him into an illicit business deal in 2003 — what he now believes was an effort at entrapment. Police officials said this was false.
When Mr. Siraj was arrested, Mr. Eldawoody disappeared from the neighborhood.
The imam said Mr. Siraj should have "cared more for the country he lived in," but did not deserve a lifetime prison term, which he could face at sentencing.
"He is a young man with very little experience in life and he was entrapped, and that's obvious," he said. "The informer tried to entrap me and it didn't work."
Anatomy Of a Foiled Plot
Two would-be bombers of the Herald Square subway station find that three is a crowd.
6.We Have Informants Everywhere.
7.Homegrown Terrorists Are Incompetent.
On a rain-soaked Saturday morning nine days before the start of the Republican convention at Madison Square Garden, an Egyptian known as Dawadi left his house on Staten Island to pick up two friends. They had plans to spend the day together and to take care of a little business.
Dawadi wore a baseball cap pulled down over his eyes. He looked as if he were heading out to do some weekend errands. He drove to Rossville, a middle-class Staten Island neighborhood, where he picked up James Elshafay, an unemployed 19-year-old Tottenville High School dropout. The two men greeted each other warmly. Though they had known one another for less than a year, Dawadi had become a mentor to the naïve, sometimes confused younger man. Mature, well-educated, and religious, Dawadi was, some would say, even a father figure for Elshafay, who had grown up in a house with just his mother and an aunt.
Driving cautiously toward Queens in the heavy rain, the two men passed the time discussing the best way to handle the day's primary activity—a careful examination of the Herald Square subway station in preparation for planting a bomb.
After considering a variety of targets, they had decided on the subway station. Now they needed detailed information to put together a plan. They wanted to know the number and location of cops on the platforms at different times of the day. Which areas were covered by video cameras? Since the likeliest place to hide a bomb was a garbage can, they needed to know how many there were, where they were located, and when they got emptied. And they needed to find the best path to go in and then get out quickly after planting the device.
When they reached 34th Avenue in Astoria, Shahawar Matin Siraj, a 22-year-old Pakistani national, came down from his apartment and got in the car. Siraj, who entered the U.S. illegally nearly six years ago, was wearing a do-rag and baggy jeans. He had said when they planned their recon maneuvers that he wanted to disguise himself. He didn't want to "look Arabic." In English so thickly accented it can make him difficult to understand, he said he wanted to "look hip-hop, like a Puerto Rican."
On the way to midtown, the three men made small talk, and then the conversation shifted to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Though they had already decided that blowing up the Verrazano would be better left for some time in the future—it would be very difficult, they believed, to put a bomb on the bridge without being seen—they nevertheless passed the time in a lively back-and-forth about the best place to plant explosives on the bridge to ensure the destruction of the entire span.
Finally, the trio parked on Madison Avenue and 30th Street. To make sure they didn't attract attention, they decided to split up, do what they needed to do, and meet back near the car when they finished. They went their separate ways, and each man descended into the 34th Street subway using a different entrance.
Six days later, two of the three were arrested for plotting to blow up the 34th Street subway station. Siraj was quietly picked up a couple of blocks from Islamic Books and Tapes, the shop on Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge where he worked. Elshafay was sitting on the steps of the Noor Al mosque on Richmond Terrace when he was taken into custody with nary a voice raised.
Dawadi, as it turned out, was a confidential informant working for the NYPD. He had spent more than a year on the case, first building a relationship with Siraj and then with Elshafay. With his identity now revealed, he disappeared from the Arab Muslim community in Bay Ridge (the largest one in the city, with some 30,000 members) as abruptly as he had become a part of it.
Identifying, getting close to, and ultimately arresting Siraj and Elshafay, two lone terrorists with no connections to Al Qaeda or any other international organization, who were motivated by all of the jihad chatter crackling in the air, was a direct result of much of the work that has been done by the NYPD since 9/11. "These kinds of homegrown, lone-wolf incidents start way below the level the federal government would focus on," says David Cohen, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence. "If we weren't doing it, nobody would be."
Cohen, who was once the No. 4 spook at the CIA, is sitting with his back to a brick wall in the Half King, a funky, out-of-the-way pub on the far West Side in the twenties. It's afternoon and the place is library-quiet. But Cohen's routine level of suspicion is so highly evolved that when I ask if he'd like to sit out back in the pub's garden, he shakes his head. "Gardens have ears," he says cryptically.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, Cohen, and other high-ranking members of the department like to talk about the international intelligence-gathering capabilities that have been developed since 9/11. NYPD detectives are now posted in cities around Europe and the Middle East. But the listening posts that have been established in neighborhoods throughout the city, while decidedly less glamorous, are probably of greater value. A crudely planned, locally developed attack—like the one cops believe they thwarted with the arrests of Siraj and Elshafay—could still cause plenty of death, destruction, and panic, and may now be what keeps Kelly and his inner circle awake at night.
Kelly says the arrests of Siraj and Elshafay are proof that the investment made in the NYPD's Intelligence Division has paid off. "Yes, we want to work with other agencies, and yes, we have detectives placed overseas," he says. "But in New York City, we're on our own. We have to protect our own turf."
Global events, he argues, give people like Elshafay and Siraj permission to think the way they think. "We have an overarching concern about the lone wolf, the unaffiliated terrorist," he says. "That's why this case is so important to me."
According to several sources close to the investigation, Elshafay is in the process of pleading guilty and making a deal with the U.S. Attorney's office in Brooklyn. It is still unclear whether Siraj will plead or fight the charges. (Neither defendant's lawyer responded to repeated requests for comment.)
Shahawar Matin Siraj first came to the attention of the Police Department's Intelligence Division nearly a year and a half ago. Someone in Bay Ridge phoned in a report to a terrorist hotline the NYPD had set up after 9/11 that there was a young man who regularly engaged in virulent anti-American tirades. He worked at a Muslim bookstore located next to the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, which encompasses a thriving community center, a nursery school, and one of the most active mosques in the city. The turnout for Friday-afternoon prayers regularly exceeds 1,000 men, filling the mosque and forcing many others to participate, via loudspeakers, out on the street.
Siraj was worth keeping an eye on, intelligence officers believed, because of the tenor of his rhetoric and because he was apparently careful about when he spoke his mind. He wasn't some hothead who shot his mouth off to whoever came into the bookstore; Siraj vented only in front of people he believed he could trust.
After getting reports about Siraj for months, the cops decided, as Cohen puts it, "to send assets to that location." Specifically, they assigned Dawadi, their informant, to develop a relationship with Siraj, to become his friend and gain his confidence.
The odd seduction began last year during Ramadan. Dawadi started going to the bookstore and the mosque, occasionally talking to Siraj but always careful not to push things and scare his target away. Slowly, over four or five months, Siraj began to open up to his new friend.
At the same time, detectives investigated Siraj and his family, and a picture began to emerge. A native of Karachi, Pakistan, Siraj entered the U.S. illegally in 1999. Though the cops aren't certain, they believe he came across the border from Canada. His mother, father (who also works at the bookstore, which is owned by an uncle), and 18-year-old sister were already here legally.
Not long after sneaking across the border, Siraj was arrested for assault. The charges were eventually dropped, but he was arrested again for assault this past June, in a case involving an altercation in front of a store. He worked hard to present himself as a tough guy, telling Dawadi and others that he'd left Pakistan after killing two people. He also claimed that he'd been shot by one of his victims before killing him. Though cops have been unable to verify his story, Siraj was easy to anger and often lost his temper during his months with Dawadi.
"It was critical for us to determine if Siraj was connected to anyone overseas," says one detective who worked the case. "It's an interactive process. We watch who he hangs around with, how he deals with people, and in particular we look at his general level of sophistication. Things like whether he takes his own countersurveillance measures."
During the first six or seven months of the operation, Dawadi would hang around the bookstore, he'd occasionally drive Siraj home after work, and they would have long conversations about Islam. There was some radical talk, but nothing beyond banal, mostly boilerplate hostility. But the urgency of the rhetoric and the momentum for acting on it picked up dramatically when Siraj introduced Dawadi to his friend James Elshafay in April.
Only 19, Elshafay is the American-born product of an Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father, who split up when he was very young. Overweight, sloppy-looking, and on medication for anxiety, Elshafay has been treated for psychological problems. (A comic moment on police-surveillance video, taken the day the suspects conducted their reconnaissance of the subway, shows him standing in the rain after emerging from the station, eating a falafel with the filling oozing out the sides and onto his hands.)
Cops describe him as lost: not in school, not working, and in some state of turmoil about his identity. His only friend other than Siraj seemed to be his mother, who, cops say, coddled him and drove him everywhere.
September 11 was a turning point for Elshafay. "After 9/11, there was a lot of anti-Arab sentiment being expressed around the city," one detective says. "James saw people he grew up with and went to school with on Staten Island carrying signs that said on the front GOD BLESS AMERICA and on the back KILL ARAB BABIES, and he felt the police didn't do anything about it."
When he was introduced to Dawadi in April, he had an extraordinarily ambitious, handwritten wish list of possible targets to attack. In addition to the 34th Street subway station, the list included the station at 59th and Lexington, a 42nd Street station, the Verrazano Bridge, a Staten Island jail, and three police precincts on Staten Island—the 123rd in Tottenville, the 120th in St. George, and the 122nd in New Dorp.
Elshafay also had a crudely drawn map of the targets that he gave to Siraj, who then showed it to Dawadi. "Are you crazy?" Dawadi said when Siraj unfolded the map. "You'd better get rid of that." Siraj stuck it between some volumes on a shelf in the bookstore.
Elshafay had begun to develop a vague interest in his Islamic heritage about a year and a half ago, growing a beard and starting to pray regularly. After their meeting, Dawadi nourished his growing piety. It was an easy way for them to bond. They went to the mosque and prayed together. Dawadi took him to a shop on Atlantic Avenue to buy his first kufi. He bought him an English translation of the Koran. He recommended books for Elshafay to read, like those by Abu Hanifah, a seminal Islamic scholar who died in 767 and is considered one of the greatest imams in Muslim history.
Soon Siraj began discussing the merits of various kinds of explosives and showed Dawadi some CDs he had that contained bomb-making instructions. He also talked more heatedly about blowing things up and doing harm to U.S. military personnel and law-enforcement officers.
"I want at least 1,000 to 2,000 to die in one day," Siraj said at one point.
In June, NYPD intelligence officers decided that the suspects had crossed a boundary. To make sure they got what they needed to make a case, and to prevent an attack, Dawadi began to wear a wire to record his conversations with the two. Detectives also instructed Dawadi to tell Siraj and Elshafay that he was a member of a Muslim brotherhood, which would support them and offer whatever assistance they needed to pull off an attack.
As July approached, Siraj talked about his "willingness to do jihad." "I'm going to fuck this country very bad," he said.
Fifth Avenue in Bay Ridge, between 65th and 92nd streets, is one of those colorful New York commercial strips that exist as a kind of taken-for-granted testament to the extraordinary diversity of the city. On one short stretch, there is the Chinese Pagoda, a restaurant whose sign also features large Arabic script. The Killarney Pub is right next to an Arabic boutique, which is down the street from Musab Bin Omayer, a grocery store celebrating a renovation. And in every window recently, not just those of the Cleopatra Restaurant and the Jerusalem Hair Stylist, were signs marking the end of Ramadan.
Across from the Baraka restaurant is a five-story, white-brick building that houses the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. I met Zein Rimawi, one of the society's founders and a current board member, on the street in front of the building. The society is a multipurpose community organization that includes what is now one of four mosques in Bay Ridge.
A Palestinian with six brothers who comes from a small town about 25 miles northwest of Jerusalem, Rimawi has a round, pleasant face covered by a close-cropped beard. He owns an aquarium store and is the only one in his family to have moved to the U.S. "Why did I come to America?" he asks, without pausing for an answer. We'd moved inside to a meeting room on the third floor. "Every one of my brothers has his own house, his own car, and he can send his kids to college. I don't have a house. I don't have a car. I came here for justice, for freedom. These were the most important things. But now I don't see it. So what did I accomplish? What do I have?"
Rimawi speaks calmly, in modulated tones, but his anger and disappointment are palpable. As he talks, the spirited singing voices of a pre-K class rise to fill the room from one floor below us. "Of course we are angry; we have been targeted," he continues as he takes off his jacket.
"Put on the TV and you get sick from it. You see Afghanistan, and it's a war against the Muslims. Iraq, it's a war against the Muslims. Palestine, it's a war against the Muslims. Chechnya, a war against the Muslims. Everywhere you look, it's the same thing. Now even in the Sudan."
But the deeper hurt has come closer to home. He knows Shahawar Matin Siraj and his family. The imam asked him to help when Siraj was arrested, and Rimawi spent some time checking the reputations of the lawyers being considered. He was instrumental in their decision to stay with the court-appointed counsel.
Rimawi reflects the general feeling in the community when he argues that the case against Siraj and Elshafay is simply one more example of law-enforcement officials' unjustly arresting Muslims for public-relations value. "The Bush administration needs to keep arresting Muslims," he says. "They must be able to say ‘See, we stopped another terrorist, we found another sleeping [sic] cell. We are protecting you from the terrorists.' "
An affable man with generally moderate views, Rimawi believes that as long as the government keeps telling people over and over that the terrorists are going to strike again soon, the arrests will continue. "If later it turns out they're not guilty, who cares? It's the idea of it. I believe in that. We are being targeted. The first cell they arrested in Detroit, they are free now. In Albany, free now. They said there was a mistake in the translation. Gimme a break."
Rimawi's passion is not diminished at all when I tell him Elshafay has apparently pleaded guilty. "Innocent or not is not the point," he says.
"If you take a young man like that and tell him you are religious and you are experienced and clever, and you work him for a year and you keep talking to him and telling him ‘We have to do this,' it's easy for that young man to say, ‘Yes, let's do it.' Of course that would happen. Doing this, they could arrest most young Muslim people."
The cops, however, are adamant that this was not, as Cohen puts it, "in any way about leading a horse to water. Our C.I. was very careful to let the suspects take the lead and do the talking."
From the beginning, Rimawi watched as Dawadi tried to ingratiate himself in the community. He says the informant came to the mosque and introduced himself as a religious man. He told everyone his father was a well-known author of Islamic books in Egypt. "When he heard the call for prayer, he would start to cry," Rimawi says, shaking his head almost in disbelief. "When someone would read the Koran, he would start to cry. He was a very good actor."
Though the cops dismiss the notion out of hand, Rimawi believes that Dawadi's original target was the imam, not Siraj. He says Dawadi tried to get close to the sheik. He told the religious leader he was a real-estate developer, but because he was new to the community people didn't trust him. He asked the sheik to be his partner. He told him he wouldn't have to do anything other than let Dawadi use his name and he would split the profits.
When the imam turned him down for the second time, Rimawi says, and told Dawadi not to come see him anymore, he turned his attention to Siraj.
No doubt part of Rimawi's frustration over the case is the bitter irony that for years, the board members of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge have worked enthusiastically and energetically to be good neighbors, to become an integral part of the community.
Though Rimawi says he has not personally experienced any hostility or hate, he compares the situation for American Arabs now to that of blacks in the fifties and sixties. "I wish I could leave," he says finally, turning out the lights.
"My wife and children went to Palestine and Jordan recently. I told them, ‘Find a place you like and we'll move back.' But my kids were born here; they don't want to go."
On Monday, August 23, two days after Siraj, Elshafay, and Dawadi conducted their reconnaissance of the 34th Street subway station, the men got together in Brooklyn to give real shape to their attack plan. Playing out his role, Dawadi said the brotherhood had approved their mission and directed them to conceal the bombs—which Dawadi would get from the brotherhood—in backpacks.
In the midst of the session, Siraj, who had from the beginning been the most vocal about his desire to commit an act of terror and had tried to project the façade of a tough guy, seemed to get cold feet. Suddenly, he told his companions he didn't want to handle the bombs. He would help with the planning, he would go with them to 34th Street, but he didn't want to actually go down into the subway with the explosives. "I am not ready to die," he said.
"There was silence for a bit when Siraj finished talking," one of the detectives says. "Then, very calmly, James says, ‘I'll do it. I'll place the bombs in the subway.' "
Energized by his decision to be the pivotal player in the plot, Elshafay then said he had an idea. He'd dress like an Orthodox Jew to put the explosives in place. He'd put on side curls and a long black coat. He would go in the 33rd Street entrance and come out on 34th, and they could pick him up there. Warming to this image, Siraj suggested putting the bombs in a Macy's bag. "Jews shop at Macy's," he offered.
By this time, days before the start of the Republican convention, the cops were taking every precaution. They had the suspects under 24-hour surveillance and were working closely with the U.S. Attorney's office to make sure they were getting all the elements they needed for an airtight case.
Then, early in the morning on August 27, one of the lead detectives got a call at home to get to the NYPD's counterterrorism bureau in Brooklyn as quickly as possible. The decision had been made to move on the suspects.
Since Siraj had an assault case pending against him, the cops used it as a lure. They called and asked him to come to the 68th Precinct in Bay Ridge at three o'clock to get the case closed out. He said fine. But when he left work at Islamic Books and Tapes that Friday afternoon, he was headed in the opposite direction.
Not taking any chances, the cops grabbed him. In his pocket was the original hand-drawn map of targets that Elshafay had first given him back in April—the one he had hidden among the volumes in the bookstore.
Elshafay was also called by the cops and told there was a traffic accident they needed to talk to him about. His mother dropped him at the mosque on Staten Island, where the cops arrested him. Before they put him in the patrol car, he asked if he could have a cigarette.
"There's no question in our mind that they would have played this out completely," says Cohen. "If they couldn't get the explosives or if they just got frustrated, they had other options. All it takes is an AK-47 and a desire to become a martyr. Well, they have no options now."
THEORIES 1-5: Reasons They Haven't Hit Us Again
Answering the Big Question.
THEORY 8: Camp Jihad
A ragtag army of cops, soldiers, and G.I. Joe wannabes play terrorist for a week in a counterintuitive counterterrorism program.
MIM: Almontaser's biography lists some of her political involvement and her participation in Islamic propagation via innocuous sounding organisations which operate under the guise of diversity.
Debbie Almontaser is currently Coordinator of External Programs for Brooklyn public schools. As a multicultural specialist and diversity consultant, Ms. Almontaser facilitates teacher and public workshops on Arab culture, Islam, conflict resolution, cultural diversity, and Augusto Boal's Theater of the Oppressed around the city, and at local and national conferences. Ms. Almontaser also serves as a consultant to Nickelodeon's Nick Jr. Muslim American Series Project, Independent Production Fund's Islam Project, Educators for Social Responsibility, the Interfaith Center of NYC, and the Church Avenue Merchants Block Association's (CAMBA, Inc.) Diversity Project. She sits on the board of The Dialogue Project, Women In Islam Inc., among other organizations. She is also a co-founder of Brooklyn Bridges, The September 11th Curriculum Project, Justice for Detainees, and the We Are All Brooklyn Coalition. Ms. Almontaser co-designed and developed a curriculum for the Muslim Communities Project at Columbia University and for Educators for Social Responsibility/Metro. She has a B.A. from St. Francis College and an M.S. in multicultural education and reading from Adelphi University. She also holds an M.S. from Baruch College's School of Public Affairs through their Aspiring Leaders Program. During her Revson year, Ms. Almontaser took courses from the International Center for Cooperation & Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College and received a Certificate in Conflict Resolution. The Conflict Resolution Certificate program is a rigorous and thorough program of study in the field of conflict resolution exploring local and global conflicts as well as the various mediation models. Ms. Almontaser plans on incorporating these courses into a doctoral program.www.asmasociety.org/wise/participants.html
April 26, 2007
Bay Ridge man guilty in terror bomb plot
Jury finds no entrapment
By Dana Rubinstein The Brooklyn Paper
Jurors who convicted Bay Ridge resident Shahawar Matin Siraj this week for plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station rejected the defense contention that Siraj had been entrapped by a paid informant and an undercover police officer who spied on the neighborhood's large Muslim community.
Siraj's defense maintained that his views that the United States government was involved in the 9-11 attacks were "community-based notions" held among many Bay Ridge muslims.
"In fact, in that entire Muslim community in Bay Ridge, the thought that the American government was responsible for bringing down the towers on 9-11 was common," said one of Siraj's attorneys, Martin Stolar.
The undercover cop, identified in court by the pseudonym "Kamil Pasha," had testified that "not everybody felt that way." The New York Police Department said Pasha's job was to spy on the Bay Ridge Muslim community.
Outside the presence of the jury, Stolar told judge Nina Gershon that if Siraj's opinions were held to show a pre-disposition to terrorism, it "would put the entire Muslim community around Bay Ridge in a predisposition mode — that everyone has a predisposition to commit an attack."
Pasha also testified that Siraj praised Osama bin Laden and Palestinian suicide bombers.
Muslims in Bay Ridge, some who knew Siraj and some who did not, expressed anger at the disclosure that the NYPD spied on them.
"This was a confirmation of what we already knew … and have known since 9-11," said Linda Sarsour, a Muslim activist who prays at the same Islamic Society of Bay Ridge mosque where Siraj occasionally worshipped.
Sarsour and others said the NYPD spying program would convince people that Muslims are guilty until proven innocent.
"I am an American citizen, like everyone else," said Abdel Hamid Hassan, who brought his two children to pray at the mosque last week. "[The danger] is not us — we live here. How could I destroy the place I live in? Everybody I know follows the rules of this country."
Sarsour especially complained about "raids" of cafes frequented by Muslims along 69th Street and Fifth Avenue, with authorities asking patrons for identification and taking some away for questioning. Police vans hover outside the mosque and FBI agents sometimes leave business cards on people's doors, she said.
"[The suspicion] causes people to not be active in the community, to be isolated," said Sarsour. "People go to from work to home, from school to home.
"Last week, we had a Palestinian march, and there should have been 2,000 people at least [but] there were [only] 350 or so," added Sarsour. "No one wants to give political opinions."
Islamic Society spokesman Wael Mousfar said the NYPD spying program "has put fear in people's lives. It's not a good feeling. People feel very uncomfortable doing anything, talking to anyone, even gathering together."
"I don't think that surveillance of any ethnic or racial group is a good tool," said Maria Haberfeld, chair of the law, police science and criminal justice administration department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "In fact, it can breed problems and alienate the group or community."
Haberfeld said such surveillance is only useful "if you have some sort of intelligence about somebody who frequents a particular group or community."
The NYPD would not discuss the surveillance program with The Brooklyn Papers.
Before disclosing the surveillance program at Siraj's trial, police officials had been courting the Bay Ridge Muslim community.
Earlier this month, a high-ranking inspector visited the mosque to talk about community concerns. A week later, Commissioner Ray Kelly visited Bay Ridge and was peppered with questions about the surveillance.
The police department's efforts are paying off with some Muslims.
"The country has the right to do anything to secure the life of the people," said Mustafa Ali, who sometimes prays at the mosque.
Ironically, what worries some Muslims even more than their treatment by the authorities is how their neighbors will view them now. Some would have preferred that NYPD's spying program never been publicly revealed.
"It doesn't paint a good picture of us," said Sansour.
"The other communities — the Christian and Jewish communities we have been trying to build bridges with — must think we have done something wrong … For them to hear ‘FBI' and ‘informants,' it gets them a little scared."
Bridgebuilder: Birth of an Activist By Debbie Almontaser I remember sitting in my study on the night of September 11th watching the horrid news clips of the World Trade Center disaster and wondering what my students would think about me now. It was only the third day of school. My students barely knew me as an Arab-American. How would they and their families perceive me? Would they trust me enough to get to know that I am a caring, loving human being?
|On September 10|
I was a mother, a wife, and a teacher who worked from eight to three. After September 11 I was also a community activist from four to ten or eleven every night.
That afternoon my students and many others had already come to the conclusion that it was "those dumb Arabs" who had attacked. It was only then I had told my students my background. I let them know that my feelings were hurt to hear such a characterization when no one in the government actually knew anything yet. It had been the sort of "teachable moment" no teacher can let pass by. Of course my students felt bad after I acknowledged my ethnicity. That led us to have a conversation about generalizing blame. By working with examples such as "all youth are lazy" and "all Spanish people only eat rice and beans," they started to understand what I meant. One student said, "Can we say, ‘We have reason to believe that those who are involved in the attacks are terrorists who may be of Arab descent?'" "What do you all think?" I asked. Their response was, "When you say it that way, you are not blaming all Arabs or saying that this is a proven fact." I mentioned how Arabs were also blamed for the Oklahoma bombing, when that crime was done by a native-born American. Some students had then wanted to change the statement to "We have reason to believe that those who are involved in the attacks are terrorists."
Besides blame and speculation, we had also discussed fears. Questions like "Is our school safe? Will this happen again in a few hours? Is our country under attack? What is the government going to do about this?" left me speechless, but God gave me the energy and wisdom to answer them in a way that made my students feel safe.
Toward the end of the conversation one student had asked me if I was scared. "Why do you ask?" I inquired. His response was, "I would be scared if I was Arabic, because everyone will be angry with me for what has happened if those who did it are Arab. I am scared for you." I was touched by his comment. "What should I do?" I asked. His response was, "Don't go home alone." Ten- and eleven-year-old children knew exactly what I was going to face as an Arab-American Muslim woman who wears the head covering called hijab. This child's comment had assured me that my students cared about me. Would they continue to do so after watching the nonstop news broadcasts?
On September 13th, my fears of not being liked or respected by my students dissolved when they ran to me in the schoolyard to hug me. They were so relieved to see that I had come to work despite the backlash already taking place in the community. Their parents also greeted me with warm smiles and appreciated my dedication at such a time of fear and uncertainty. So did other people in the school community. Everyone came over and hugged and kissed me. They were able to see me as an individual. A group of parents even offered to escort the Arab and Muslim children to school for as long as needed.
Driven by their encouragement, I ended up going out into the community to reassure Arab and Muslim parents that they needed to send their children to school—that they didn't have to worry about their safety there. It was a necessary mission. Many Arab-American, South Asian, and Muslim students were out of school for days and some even for weeks because they and their families did not feel it was safe to be out in public.
As an independent woman, I didn't feel safe either. After September 11th, Arab-American and Muslim women became very limited in their daily routines. I for one became a self-imposed prisoner in my own home. For a whole month I was afraid to go out in public alone: wearing the hijab made me too visible. My husband became my bodyguard. He drove me to work and drove me home. He did everything that I needed to get done outside the house because we feared for the safety of my life. We were afraid of physical or verbal attacks on me. It had happened on several occasions to other Muslim women. I have been wearing the hijab in New York City for almost two decades without any problems. I have loved New York as a place that accepts many races, colors, and creeds. Here I have I felt comfortable; here I have felt at home.
Wearing the hijab has empowered me to reach my personal and professional goals. It has given me a sense of high stature. People have recognized and respected me for what I know, not for my physical appearance. Being a modern woman in traditional garb has made me a role model for young women across the city. I symbolize the coexistence of two worlds at a time that is complex and competitive. But since September 11th, wherever I go, I get looks and stares that make me wish I could disappear from sight. I often wonder whether these people see me as a radical, or an extremist Muslim terrorist lurking among them, or perhaps a poster girl for the oppressed women of Afghanistan. Throughout my subway travels my heart is always beating a mile a minute. I always wonder, Will anyone come to my rescue if I am attacked, or just stand by and watch? My daughter Shifa is fourteen years old now and she can never imagine not wearing a hijab. She is your typical American girl whose two passions are music and being on the phone with her friends. Her favorite pastime is being with her best friend Katie Cohen, who lives down the block.
My daughter is dealing with the same struggles I deal with every day. She's conscious of who's staring at her and wondering what they are thinking. Since September 11th, Shifa has not left the house alone. She is afraid someone will harass her. To get her to school safely, I had to arrange for a private bus to takes her back and forth with some of her friends. As a mother who fears for her child, I told her to think about not wearing the hijab in public until things calmed down. Her response to this idea was, "Absolutely not, I'm not going to let anyone strip me of my religious right." Her courage and devotion made me very proud, and reminded me of how much we are alike.
My older son Yousif decided to join the US Army three years ago. I was torn, because I'm a person who loves peace—but this is what he wanted to do, and so we supported his decision. Now I say to myself I wish I had not supported him then. On September 11th, Yousif was activated to report to his unit. Then he was sent to Ground Zero. He was there until January 31,2002. In the beginning, he was part of the rescue mission: I waited anxiously by the phone every night, hoping he would call. He was only able to call every three or four days. They felt like months. The worst was when he called during the day, when we were away at work. His messages on our answering machine were: "Mom, Dad! It's Yousif. I'm okay. Don't worry about me. I'm eating better now and sleeping a little longer. I'll call you soon. I love you." A few weeks later, his job was switched to patrolling the area.
From December through January his duty was to assemble telecommunications equipment. I remember the night when Yousif came home for the first time since the tragedy. His presence at the front door was a relief, but I almost did not recognize him. I thought, "O my God, he could pass for his father's brother." What he had seen and experienced made him look ten years older. When I asked him "How is it there?" he couldn't talk about it. God only knows when he will be ready to talk about it. They say it takes months and sometimes years before someone is ready to talk about such an experience. Months have passed. Yousif is now home and he still can't talk about it. His struggle for a normal life is haunted by nightmares and hair loss—due to mental stress and anxiety, the doctors say.
The evildoing of others has stripped my child's innocence on many levels. My only prayer for him as a mother is, "God, please replace the sights and sounds of destruction and uncertainty with visions of peace and harmony." On September 10 I was a mother, a wife, and a teacher who worked from eight to three. After September 11 I was also a community activist from four to ten or eleven every night. I was involved in so many projects to safeguard my Arab, Muslim, and South Asian neighbors in Brooklyn that between September and November I lost twenty pounds from overwork. This all evolved from my membership in the Brooklyn Dialogue Project. The Project is a group of Jews, Palestinians, Muslims, Christians and others who meet on a monthly basis, just to talk about the issues of the world and give each other a sense of hope and support.
Immediately after September 11th, some members of the dialogue called to check up on how my family and I were doing. Based on the concerns and issues I raised, they invited me to go to their churches and synagogues to speak on behalf of the Arab-American and Muslim communities in Brooklyn. After several visits, I realized that many people within the community did not know their Arab and Muslim neighbors on a social basis. So I decided to open my home to neighbors, friends, and people I met at the churches and synagogues. I wanted them to get to know who we are and how much we have in common. I had over a hundred and thirty guests. They have now become good friends and allies. That open house opened the doors for me to help my community on many levels. Many of my guests were very eager to help.
Among them were people from the Christian Children's Fund. With their facilitation and moral support, members from Park Slope and myself were able to develop the Brooklyn Bridges Project, which offered to escort people who were afraid, made legal and mental health referrals, and worked to educate people of other backgrounds about Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians. Another project I co-founded with others shortly after September 11th is The September 11th Curriculum Project: Developing Bridges of Understanding. This project has brought together expert educators from across the city to develop a curriculum that will aid teachers in teaching about Arabs, Muslims, and their position in the world. The curriculum will be distributed to all New York City schools.
All this volunteer work literally took all my time and energy until I became ill from overexertion. My husband and friends made me realize that I had to make a choice between teaching and my community work. I was torn, because I loved being with my students, but I knew deep down in my heart that I wasn't giving them my all. I also loved serving my community—and if I didn't do it, no one else would or could. I made my decision after a conversation I had with Judi Aronson, the principal of my school. She appreciated everything I offered to the school, but she also wanted me to be happy. Her words were, "If you continue as a teacher, you will impact a group of children. If you choose the community work, you will be impacting communities. Follow your heart." Her guidance and blessings steered me to do the work that was desperately needed. I will never forget the day I broke the news to my students. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. After I told them I was leaving, my heart was filled with joy. They understood. They knew how involved I was in the community, they knew I couldn't do everything, and they were very proud. Precious (who is as precious as her name) said, "We could never forgive ourselves if something happened to someone because you were with us instead of being out there helping people in other schools and in the community. You're everyone's hero."
Every now and then my old students call me, and whenever I'm in the neighborhood I stop by to say hello. But our official reunion day will be their graduation. What's important now is that all of us need to come together as a community to be educated, and educate others, as we would educate children: there are some people who do bad things, but there are many people who do good things. We must get to know each other by speaking to one another. We need to make sure that everyone's voice is heard, rather than silenced, in order to overcome our fears. We need to take this unfortunate event as a way to build bridges with the communities that are affected. We need to develop relationships with our Arab-American, Muslim, and South Asian neighbors and merchants to develop understanding and insight. We need to show our solidarity by morally and ethically supporting their existence as Americans. American forefathers come from many lands. And we need to do build those bridges by our own example. Many will respond. As one of the Israeli guests at my open house said to me, "I have always wished to get to know an Arab on a personal basis but had no idea how to go about it. Thank you for opening your home, your life, and heart." Dhabah Almontaseer does interfaith outreach, community planning with children, youth and adults for the Christian Children's Fund.