NYC Muslims Grapple With Surveillance After Imam's Killing - NBC New York

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NYC Muslims Grapple With Surveillance After Imam's Killing

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Angry members of the suspect's family denied today that he's responsible. Rana Novini reports. (Published Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016)

    What to Know

    • Oscar Morel was held without bail on murder and weapons charges Tuesday afternoon in the shooting deaths of a Queens Imam and his associate

    • Imam Maulama Akonjee and Thara Uddin were walking home from a mosque when they were shot in the head on Sunday.

    • No motive has been revealed for the shootings, but authorities have said the possibility of hate crime is "certainly on the table."

    At an emotional funeral service for a New York City imam and his assistant who were gunned down on a Queens street, one friend of the victims took the microphone and demanded that the city install security cameras outside mosques citywide to help protect Muslims from harassment or violence.

    "Each street corner should have security cameras around our places of worship," said Anwar Hussein Khan, a teacher.

    But in the days following that impassioned plea, the city's Muslim community has since backed away from that request.

    Muslim activists and civil liberties groups here have spent years opposing police surveillance of mosques.

    At a meeting Wednesday night, representatives of dozens of Muslim community groups said surveillance of mosques shouldn't be handled by the government.

    "We must look within to safeguard our houses of worship," said Debbie Almontaser, of the Muslim Community Network, said Thursday at a news conference outside City Hall.

    The killings of Imam Maulana Alauddin Akonjee and his friend Thara Uddin have forced Muslims in New York to grapple with the push-and-pull of wanting police protection, but also being nervous about exposing themselves to more scrutiny by law enforcement.

    In a series of stories that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2012, The Associated Press reported on efforts by the NYPD to seek out potential terrorists by infiltrating Muslim student groups, putting informants in mosques and sending operatives into Muslim businesses to listen to conversation.

    The tactics, when revealed, left many in the Muslim community feeling distrustful of the police. In 2014, the police department's so-called Demographics Unit was disbanded and a pair of lawsuits over the intelligence-gathering practices have been settled.

    "For our community we are also a target of police surveillance," said Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York. "It's a difficult predicament to be in as a Muslim community right now."

    Surveillance cameras are omnipresent in New York. Police regularly monitor areas of downtown and midtown Manhattan. In the boroughs, some religious groups and local government officials have used state and federal funds to put cameras around synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods.

    But whether the cameras deter crime is unclear. Many are not monitored until after a crime has already occurred.

    For their part, police say they regularly advise businesses, places of worship and others on security practices, but can only do so much.

    "Ultimately at any private facility, whether it's a religious institution, a school or a consulate, the physical security of the site is really the prime responsibility of site management," said Stephen Davis, the police department's top spokesman.

    Authorities have not said what prompted the Aug. 13 killings, which occurred a few blocks away from a Queens mosque. They've declined to label the slayings a hate crime despite a feeling among some in Akonjee and Uddin's largely Bangladeshi community in Queens that the killer was motivated by anti-Muslim political rhetoric.

    Prosecutors have called the killings an "assassination," and charged a man of Hispanic origin, Oscar Morel, with murder. He has, through his lawyer, denied the charges.

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