Stopping homegrown terrorist plots has become a top priority of both federal and local law enforcement in the decade since the September 11th attacks. While this heightened vigilance is warranted (just look at the Fort Hood shooting and the attempted Times Square bombing last year), Americans of Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian origin across the country have long complained about unwarranted government surveillance and scrutiny of their communities.
Civil rights advocates have raised concerns about alleged profiling of these communities as some 200 people have been brought for prosecution in homegrown terrorism cases. This week, New York University’s Center for Human Rights and Justice issued a report documenting the government’s extensive use of informants who they say enticed susceptible men of African-American or Middle Eastern background in to participating in terrorism plots that were nothing more than law enforcement stings.
The report focuses on three cases involving either the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the New York Police Department, the country’s largest police agency with a counter terrorism unit that often spars with its federal counterparts:
- The alleged plot by four African-American men from the impoverished upstate city of Newburgh to blow up a synagogue in the upper-middle class neighborhood of Riverdale in the Northwest Bronx.
- Five Albanian men accused of plotting to attack a U.S. military base at Fort Dix, New Jersey.
- The case of Shahawar Matin Siraj, a Pakistani immigrant to Queens who over three years was enticed by an undercover NYPD officer to plot an attack on a midtown subway station. Siraj backed out, was arrested soon thereafter on an unrelated misdemeanor charge and successfully prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney for Southern New York on terrorism charges.
In each case, the report documents the active roles played by government informants in radicalizing the target individuals and providing them with material to carry out an act of terrorism.
The main allegations of the report, which is below, are as follows:
- Law enforcement activities appear to be triggered simply by virtue of the subjects being Muslim, without any actual indication of criminal behavior, suggesting that the criteria used is neither “objective” nor “reasonable.”
- The government expends significant resources paying informants and manufacturing terrorist plots. Theseactions do not make the country safer and, in fact, divert limited resources away from monitoring actual threats.
- The government’s use of informants and surveillance in Muslim communities institutionalizes and legitimizes Islamophobia and xenophobia in the general public.