New York police recruit Muslim prisoners to be informants

The men, all Muslim immigrants, went through similar ordeals: Waiting in a New York station house cell or a lockup facility, expecting to be arraigned, only to be pulled aside and questioned by detectives. The queries were not about the charges against them, but about where they went to mosque and what their prayer habits were. Eventually, the detectives got to the point: Would they work for the police, eavesdropping in Muslim cafes and restaurants, or in mosques?…

Indeed, in the first quarter of this year, according to police officials, the team conducted 220 interviews.

The Times reviewed two dozen reports generated by the debriefing team in early 2009. Together, the documents and the interviews offered an up-close view of how the squad operates, functioning as a recruiter for the Intelligence Division, the arm of the department that is dedicated to foiling terrorist plots. But they also showed that the division’s counterterrorism mission had come to intersect in some new — and potentially uncomfortable — ways with the department’s more traditional crime-fighting work.

They showed that religion had become a normal topic of police inquiry in the city’s holding cells and lockup facilities. Some reports written by detectives after debriefing sessions noted whether a prisoner attended mosque, celebrated Muslim holidays or had made a pilgrimage to Mecca. The report on the food cart vendor described the location of his Flushing mosque and noted that worshipers were a “mix of Afghani, Persian (Iranians) and Pakistani.” The Egyptian limousine driver said he “considers himself to be a Sunni Muslim” but “has not prayed at a Mosque in quite some time,” according to the report.