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Sun 1 Jan 2012 01:07 PM

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Muslims shun New York mayor’s event in police spat

Leaders boycott event in protest at police surveillance of Muslim areas since 9/11 attacks

Muslims shun New York mayor’s event in police spat
A man participates in the American Muslim Day Parade in New York

More than a dozen Muslim community leaders boycotted an
interfaith breakfast organized by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to protest reported
police surveillance of Muslim areas since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks.

In an open letter to
Bloomberg, the leaders accused the mayor of ignoring concerns that the New York
Police Department has been using racial profiling and violating civil rights in
its anti-terrorism surveillance programs.

"We believe with
heartfelt conviction that during times when a community's rights are being
flagrantly violated its leaders cannot in good conscience appear at a public
gathering with the government official who is ultimately responsible and smile
for the cameras as if all is well, when we know full well that it is not,"
the letter said.

The letter cited a series of
articles earlier this year by the Associated Press that alleged that police, at
times in cooperation with the CIA, infiltrated New York mosques, Muslim
bookshops and other Islamic businesses and institutions to gather intelligence
without specific evidence of any criminal activity.

The letter was signed by 15
leaders of Muslim organizations based in New York City who said they were
turning down their breakfast invitation, as well as the leaders of several
dozen other faith organizations and civil rights groups.

The mayor's office said 368
guests attended Friday's breakfast, up from 315 people last year. The office
said the guests included representatives of the Muslim community but did not
have a specific number.

Bloomberg has defended the
police department, which denies the accusations.

"Contrary to such
assertions, the NYPD lawfully follows leads in terrorist-related investigations
and does not engage in the kind of wholesale spying on communities that was
falsely alleged," said Paul Browne, a police spokesman, in an email.

Browne said "selective
use" of undercover officers
had thwarted several bombing attempts in New
York City since the 2001 attacks by al Qaeda extremists.

In 2010, a Pakistani-born
American man attempted to set off a car bomb in New York's Times Square. Faisal
Shahzad said when he pleaded guilty that Islamic extremists would continue to
attack the United States.

Linda Sarsour, director of
the Arab American Association of New York, said she and others boycotting the
breakfast wanted an independent investigation into the NYPD's surveillance

"We've received no
substantial proof that there has been no wrongdoing," she said.

Almost three dozen members
of the U.S. Congress signed a letter this month calling on the U.S. Department
of Justice and the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether the NYPD
"has exercised authority beyond the scope of the law and in violation of
the Constitution."

Stu Loeser, a spokesman for
the mayor, said the mayor's office and the NYPD maintain "strong
ties" with the city's Muslim communities.