Informant: NYPD Paid Me To 'Bait' Muslims
By ADAM GOLDMAN and MATT APUZZO
October 23, 2012 -- NEW YORK (AP)
- A paid informant for the New York Police Department's
intelligence unit was under orders to "bait" Muslims into saying
inflammatory things as he lived a double life, snapping pictures
inside mosques and collecting the names of innocent people
attending study groups on Islam, he told The Associated Press.
Shamiur Rahman, a 19-year-old American of Bengali descent who
has now denounced his work as an informant, said police told him
to embrace a strategy called "create and capture." He said it
involved creating a conversation about jihad or terrorism, then
capturing the response to send to the NYPD. For his work, he
earned as much as $1,000 a month and goodwill from the police
after a string of minor marijuana arrests.
"We need you to pretend to be one of them," Rahman recalled the
police telling him. "It's street theater."
Rahman said he now believes his work as an informant against
Muslims in New York was "detrimental to the Constitution." After
he disclosed to friends details about his work for the police -
and after he told the police that he had been contacted by the
AP - he stopped receiving text messages from his NYPD handler,
"Steve," and his handler's NYPD phone number was disconnected.
Rahman's account shows how the NYPD unleashed informants on
Muslim neighborhoods, often without specific targets or criminal
leads. Much of what Rahman said represents a tactic the NYPD has
The AP corroborated Rahman's account through arrest records and
weeks of text messages between Rahman and his police handler.
The AP also reviewed the photos Rahman sent to police. Friends
confirmed Rahman was at certain events when he said he was
there, and former NYPD officials, while not personally familiar
with Rahman, said the tactics he described were used by
Informants like Rahman are a central component of the NYPD's
wide-ranging programs to monitor life in Muslim neighborhoods
since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Police officers have
eavesdropped inside Muslim businesses, trained video cameras on
mosques and collected license plates of worshippers. Informants
who trawl the mosques - known informally as "mosque crawlers" -
tell police what the imam says at sermons and provide police
lists of attendees, even when there's no evidence they committed
The programs were built with unprecedented help from the CIA.
Police recruited Rahman in late January, after his third arrest
on misdemeanor drug charges, which Rahman believed would lead to
serious legal consequences. An NYPD plainclothes officer
approached him in a Queens jail and asked whether he wanted to
turn his life around.
The next month, Rahman said, he was on the NYPD's payroll.
NYPD spokesman Paul Browne did not immediately return a message
seeking comment about Tuesday. He has denied widespread NYPD
spying, saying police only follow leads.
In an Oct. 15 interview with the AP, however, Rahman said he
received little training and spied on "everything and anyone."
He took pictures inside the many mosques he visited and
eavesdropped on imams. By his own measure, he said he was very
good at his job and his handler never once told him he was
collecting too much, no matter whom he was spying on.
Rahman said he thought he was doing important work protecting
New York City and considered himself a hero.
One of his earliest assignments was to spy on a lecture at the
Muslim Student Association at John Jay College in Manhattan. The
speaker was Ali Abdul Karim, the head of security at the Masjid
At-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn. The NYPD had been concerned about
Karim for years and already had infiltrated the mosque,
according to NYPD documents obtained by the AP.
Rahman also was instructed to monitor the student group itself,
though he wasn't told to target anyone specifically. His NYPD
handler, Steve, told him to take pictures of people at the
events, determine who belonged to the student association and
identify its leadership.
On Feb. 23, Rahman attended the event with Karim and listened,
ready to catch what he called a "speaker's gaffe." The NYPD was
interested in buzz words such as "jihad" and "revolution," he
said. Any radical rhetoric, the NYPD told him, needed to be
Talha Shahbaz, then the vice president of the student group, met
Rahman at the event. As Karim was finishing his talk on Malcolm
X's legacy, Rahman told Shahbaz that he wanted to know more
about the student group. They had briefly attended the same high
school in Queens.
Rahman said he wanted to turn his life around and stop using
drugs, and said he believed Islam could provide a purpose in
life. In the following days, Rahman friended him on Facebook and
the two exchanged phone numbers. Shahbaz, a Pakistani who came
to the U.S. more three years ago, introduced Rahman to other
"He was telling us how he loved Islam and it's changing him,"
said Asad Dandia, who also became friends with Rahman.
Secretly, Rahman was mining his new friends for details about
their lives, taking pictures of them when they ate at
restaurants and writing down license plates on the orders of the
On the NYPD's instructions, he went to more events at John Jay,
including when Siraj Wahhaj spoke in May. Wahhaj, 62, is a
prominent but controversial New York imam who has attracted the
attention of authorities for years. Prosecutors included his
name on a 3 ½-page list of people they said "may be alleged as
co-conspirators" in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, though
he was never charged. In 2004, the NYPD placed Wahhaj on an
internal terrorism watch list and noted: "Political ideology
moderately radical and anti-American."
That evening at John Jay, a friend took a photograph of Wahhaj
with a grinning Rahman.
Rahman said he kept an eye on the MSA and used Shahbaz and his
friends to facilitate traveling to events organized by the
Islamic Circle of North America and Muslim American Society. The
society's annual convention in Hartford, Conn, draws a large
number of Muslims and plenty of attention from the NYPD.
According to NYPD documents obtained by the AP, the NYPD sent
three informants there in 2008 and was keeping tabs on the
group's former president.
Rahman was told to spy on the speakers and collect information.
The conference was dubbed "Defending Religious Freedom." Shahbaz
paid Rahman's travel expenses.
Rahman, who was born in Queens, said he never witnessed any
criminal activity or saw anybody do anything wrong.
He said he sometimes intentionally misinterpreted what people
had said. For example, Rahman said he would ask people what they
thought about the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, knowing
the subject was inflammatory. It was easy to take statements out
of context, he said. He said wanted to please his NYPD handler,
whom he trusted and liked.
"I was trying to get money," Rahman said. "I was playing the
Rahman said police never discussed the activities of the people
he was assigned to target for spying. He said police told him
once, "We don't think they're doing anything wrong. We just need
to be sure."
On some days, Rahman's spent hours and covered miles in his
undercover role. On Sept. 16, for example, he made his way in
the morning to the Al Farooq Mosque in Brooklyn, snapping
photographs of an imam and the sign-up sheet for those attending
a regular class on Islamic instruction. He also provided their
cell phone numbers to the NYPD. That evening he spied on people
at Masjid Al-Ansar, also in Brooklyn.
Text messages on his phone showed that Rahman also took pictures
last month of people attending the 27th annual Muslim Day Parade
in Manhattan. The parade's grand marshal was New York City
Councilman Robert Jackson.
Rahman said he eventually tired of spying on his friends, noting
that at times they delivered food to needy Muslim families. He
said he once identified another NYPD informant spying on him. He
took $200 more from the NYPD and told them he was done as an
informant. He said the NYPD offered him more money, which he
declined. He told friends on Facebook in early October that he
had been a police spy but had quit. He also traded Facebook
messages with Shahbaz, admitting he had spied on students at
"I was an informant for the NYPD, for a little while, to
investigate terrorism," he wrote on Oct. 2. He said he no longer
thought it was right. Perhaps he had been hunting terrorists, he
said, "but I doubt it."
Shahbaz said he forgave Rahman.
"I hated that I was using people to make money," Rahman said. "I
made a mistake."
writer David Caruso in New York contributed to this story.
© 2012 The
Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.
Scroll down to add / read comments
Support Information Clearing House
Search Information Clearing House