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Muslim leaders boycott breakfast over surveillance program

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 2:27 PM EST, Fri December 30, 2011
Muslim leaders upset with the New York Police Department plan to skip Mayor Michael Bloomberg's interfaith breakfast.
Muslim leaders upset with the New York Police Department plan to skip Mayor Michael Bloomberg's interfaith breakfast.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Muslim leaders boycott interfaith breakfast in New York
  • CAIR says profiling is unconstitutional and must be investigated
  • Group protesting a controversial surveillance program with alleged CIA ties
  • Mayor Michael Bloomberg defend law enforcement efforts

New York (CNN) -- A prominent group of Muslim leaders on Friday made good on a pledge to boycott New York City's annual interfaith breakfast with Mayor Michael Bloomberg in protest of a controversial surveillance program.

The move stemmed from a series of news reports that raised questions about the nature of a Central Intelligence Agency partnership with the New York Police Department, pointing to the alleged surveillance of Muslim communities in New York.

The Associated Press reported that following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the city, the CIA helped the NYPD build intelligence programs used to spy on Muslims, adding that a CIA officer was involved in intelligence collection in Muslim communities.

The reports said police have used informers to monitor sermons during religious services, while gathering intelligence on taxi cab drivers and food-cart vendors, who often are Muslim, in New York.

"These tactics, without due process, without evidence of crime, we believe (are) unconstitutional and unlawful. That's where the shock comes from," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In a letter to the mayor on Thursday, the group said 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."

Bloomberg, who had earned the group's support in his defense of a controversial Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan, did not directly address the boycott during Friday's event.

He told reporters Thursday that the leaders are "going to miss a chance to have a great breakfast."

"It always a wonderful event to see all cultures and religions come together," he said about an event meant to highlight diversity and religious tolerance in New York.

But the mayor also reiterated his support of law enforcement efforts to thwart future terrorist attacks, telling reporters that "we obey the law" and that authorities "don't target anybody," but instead focus on investigative leads.

Last week, the CIA announced its internal watchdog found no issue or evidence of wrongdoing in the spy agency's partnership with the NYPD following an investigation into the matter.

The NYPD, meanwhile, has blasted the news agencies findings as "fictional."

New York police spokesman Paul Browne said the "use of NYPD undercover officers was grossly exaggerated in the AP series."

"There have been at least 14 terrorist plots against New York City since the 9/11 attacks, and the NYPD is actively engaged in making certain we are not attacked again," added Browne. "A recent analysis shows that 44 terrorists who have been captured or killed since 2002 resided in the five boroughs (the city's political subdivisions) or immediate metropolitan area."

The CIA has also previously said that suggestions that it engaged in domestic spying were "simply wrong."

The spy agency said the published report "mischaracterized the nature and scope" of the CIA's support for New York police.

An agency officer observing police efforts "would not be involved in law enforcement activities," said an official with knowledge of the proceedings.

But New York-area Muslims and civil liberties advocates have called for investigations and hearings after the series was published in August.

CNN's Susan Candiotti and Ronni Berke to this report

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