An NYPD officer pretended to be a Brooklyn College student at the Islamic Society in New York City, and taking the Muslim oath of faith, before befriending Muslim students to infiltrate the community.
The woman, who went by the name of Mel, short for Melike, spent four years earning the trust of Islamic students at the college as part of an NYPD operation to spy on Muslims, according to NY’s daily weblog Gothamist.
The controversial mission was part of the police departments well-documented plan that sees the blanket surveillance of innocent Muslims.
The Mayor of New York, Bill deBlasio has openly criticized such surveillance and declared at a Ramadan dinner that Muslim New Yorkers were ‘still fighting for basic human rights.’
‘We recently shut down the Demographics Unit at NYPD, which conducted surveillance on Muslim New Yorkers. Because it’s unfair to single out people on the sole basis of their religion,’ he added.
The undercover operation led to some important arrests. Four years after Mel had infiltrated the college, two Queens residents, Noelle Velentzas and Asia Siddiqui, were arrested and charged with allegedly planning to build a bomb.
The US Justice Department issued a release stating that the women were linked to members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State.
It was revealed that a Detective from the NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau was heavily involved in bringing the women to justice.
Students who have since been made aware of the undercover operation have said how they now feel violated after discovering Mel’s true identity.
‘You trust someone, you talk to them. And they were just gathering information about your community,’ a student said.
‘I grew up here. To have this happen because of your religion, or your political views, it’s scary. You feel alienated. And you don’t feel like this is your home,’ she added.
Three Brooklyn College graduates who had been close to the undercover officer told Gothamist of the intimate ties she developed with Muslim students and her presence during some of the most private moments of their lives.
Mel immersed herself in the student community, attending Islamic education classes, social gatherings, and trips to museums and the aquarium.
Professor Ramzi Kassem at CUNY School of Law and director of the school’s Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) project said that ‘for an undercover to be seeded in a community for that long without a specific target raises some deeply troubling questions about the direction of policing in our city.’
New York attorney Gideon Orion Oliver explained to Gothamist how undercover detectives ‘develop really profound and predatory relationships with their targets,’ to create an intimate bond of trust between them.
After spending so much time and getting to know a vast amount of the target’s life, ‘the government and the undercover officers have significant roles in manufacturing what they then characterize as the defendants’ plots,’ Oliver said.
Many of the cases dealt with by the NYPD often involve a form of ‘entrapment’ that see undercover detectives and FBI informants carrying out manipulative tactics in order to secure evidence that will later lead to arrests.
In the case of Velentzas and Siddiqui, four propane gas tanks, as well as instructions for how to turn them into explosive devices, are said to have been found in Siddiqui’s home, and according to the criminal complaint, the two women had in-depth conversations with the undercover officer about their violent aspirations.
The undercover officer established a friendship with at least one of the women as early as 2013, according to the criminal complaint.
The two women are not alleged to have been in the process of planning a specific attack, and according to the criminal complaint, Velentzas repeatedly stated she would not want to harm any ‘regular’ people, instead targeting police or military personnel.
After 9/11, both the NYPD and the FBI revamped their approach to terrorism investigations and began operating under a policy of preventive prosecution.
The NYPD began to look for particular indicators of radicalization such as the ‘wearing of traditional Islamic clothing,’ giving up drinking or smoking, and ‘becoming involved in social activism.’
In the NYPD’s model of measuring threats, which have been criticized, young people were also a key target.
‘The government – often acting through informants – is actively involved in developing [terrorism plots], persuading and sometimes pressuring the target to participate, and providing the resources to carry it out,’ according to the 2014 Human Rights Watch report.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn College authorities have denied having any knowledge of the undercover operation at the campus and have said they were not notified of such activity by the NYPD.
Specific guidelines expressly prohibit the NYPD from monitoring political or religious organizations unless there is suspicion of a crime taking place.
In this case, it appears ‘Mel’ was assigned to the school to observe Muslim students out of mere curiosity.
Brooklyn College students at the Islamic Society told Gothamist they feel skeptical and paranoid.
‘In the back of all our minds, there’s always that suspicion, that either, you are a spy, or you think I’m one,’ a female Muslim student stressed.
‘We’re acting like criminals, even though we haven’t done anything,’ she said.