A Qualitative Change in Racial and Ethnic Profiling

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A Qualitative Change in Racial and Ethnic Profiling

Aref Assaf

The Bergen Record’s  lead article today, “Al-Qaida Associates in NJ” by Mike Kelly, caught my eye. (Read the article below)  As  I read the column, I immediately and almost instinctively wanted to question the timing and the positioning of the article. We all recall the many aborted plots, the endless investigations by the FBI into “sleeper cells” only to be later discredited. Castigation of our community became the preferred method for many in law enforcement and also in the media.

But this article is remarkable  and truly noteworthy not only in its not so life-shattering conclusion that Al-Qaida may still have some sympathizers or operatives in New Jersey, but,  more importantly,  in the fact that not once the two words “Islam” and “terrorism” were used together to describe acts or potential acts of terrorism. In fact,  many other words were not used at all. The article’s 1200 words did not include “Arab’, “Muslim”, “Islamic” or even “mosque”. Equally impressive is the absence of self-appointed Islamophobia experts, such as Daniel Pipes, or terrorism experts such as the Israeli Mossad.

Obviously, we welcome this qualitative change in how the FBI talks about the issue of terrorism and its efforts to intercept criminal plots. While we know the FBI will still be in our midst looking for potential suspects, we hope their new posture portends a quantum leap in how law enforcement views terrorism and how it perceives our Muslim community. Greater interaction by the FBI in our community affairs coupled with a receptive Muslim response is bearing fruits finally.

It has been our long-held position that ascribing terrorism to Islam is both wrong and also confuses the mission of the FBI. Racial and ethnic profiling has not proven to be a credible tool for confronting terrorism. It is also equally imperative that American Muslims are not forever castigated and maligned for acts purported to have been committed in the name of Islam.

The FBI is to be commended for ensuring the safety of all citizens. Their behind the scene work perfectly fits their mission: to prevent illegal acts before they occur, not to prosecute criminals after they commit their crimes. Many leaders in the Muslim community have been an important venue in disseminating information from and about the community. No, they are not acting as informants for there is nothing to hide as Muslim places of worship are open to all except for those who wish to bring harm unto our homeland.  Instead, they are engaged in  pursuing an open dialogue whose main focus is the security of our homeland and the safety of all its residents. There should be no doubt about our loyalty for this country’s security and  the safety of its citizens and land.

At a recent gathering, Mr. John Paige from the NJ Office of Counter-Terrorism (and a recently retired FBI agent), stated that of the 40,000 people who were interviewed since the 2001 WTC attacks,  not a single person was charged with terrorism-related crimes. So while we urge the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to remain vigilant in their pursuit of our collective safety, we hope this mission will be conducted without infringing upon the rights and freedoms of our community.

We also expect a maximum effort to prevent acts of hate, discriminatory practices, and the destruction of our property, be it our homes or our places of worship. A recent survey stated that Muslims in NJ are 31% more likely to be victims of discrimination and hate crimes. Yes, we want security for our nation, but it must not be at the price of violating our fundamental rights. We expect the FBI to investigate the apparent bias incident involving the 12-year-old sister of one of the men arrested for allegedly plotting to attack Fort Dix. The girl , according to a CAIR press release, was reportedly punched in the face by a teenaged boy at her school after being told, “There’s a terrorist on the loose.” At the end of the September incident, the assailant allegedly told the girl, “Your brother will never come back.” 

There is one matter the article mentions rather hurriedly. According to the article, some of those who were caught planning  illegal acts were deported. Not wishing to second the FBI or the article’s writer, but such a punishment, we hope, was properly executed and that all legal protections were afforded to the accused. We also deduce that such a punishment was mooted not against American citizens (who may not be deported unless stripped of their citizenship,  and only in rare cases may be deported),  but rather against illegal immigrants whose loyalty is not to this country. Protecting our homeland and protecting our civil liberties are infrangible facets of what makes America the envy of the world.


 Al-Qaida associates in N.J.
Monday, October 15, 2007


Osama bin Laden may be hiding in the impenetrable mountains near the Afghanistan border, but FBI counter terror officials say they have identified several of his associates in a far more accessible spot — northern New Jersey.

The FBI’s elite Joint Terrorism Task Force in Newark says it is not only monitoring a number of North Jersey residents with ties to al-Qaida, but that agents have quietly “disrupted” their activities and even deported a few.

These glimpses into North Jersey’s war on terrorism, from a series of interviews with task force leaders, come on the heels of revelations last summer that Bin Laden’s terror network had regained strength. But that rebuilding was thought to have taken place overseas.

This is the first time since the 9/11 attacks that FBI counter terror officials have revealed an al-Qaida presence in North Jersey.

“There are definitely facilitators in this state,” said Kevin Cruise, the veteran FBI counter terror agent who directs Newark’s 100-member terrorism task force of FBI and CIA agents as well as state police and even local beat cops.

One of Cruise’s deputies was even more specific.

“There are people in your county who are affiliated with known al-Qaida members overseas,” said Jack Jupin, the FBI agent who heads the counter terror squad for Bergen County.

Cruise, who supervised FBI investigations of terrorist bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa and the USS Cole before taking over the Newark task force, cautioned that his agents have no information about an imminent attack here. But he said several al-Qaida sympathizers would try if given the chance.

“There are many people who are like-minded who want to commit acts of terrorism and have just not taken that extra step,” said Cruise, who keeps a “wanted” poster of Bin Laden on his office wall.

Sometimes, he said, counter terror agents “disrupt” these North Jersey residents with al-Qaida ties.

Cruise declined to describe any case in detail. But in general, such disruption methods ranged from outright deportations to quiet visits by FBI agents in which suspected terrorists are told their activities are being monitored.

“There are many disruptions that occur that the public does not know about,” Cruise said.

Taliban aren’t here

For the past six years, FBI officials have routinely declined to discuss counter terror measures in northern New Jersey. But last week, the FBI granted The Record limited access to the offices of its Joint Terrorism Task Force, in a gleaming glass building in Newark overlooking the Passaic River.

This unusual glimpse into the inner workings of North Jersey’s primary counterterrorism force revealed the following:

Task force investigators have discovered that every major terrorist group in the world, including Hamas and Hezbollah, has at least one North Jersey contact. The lone exception is Afghanistan’s ultra-fundamentalist sect, the Taliban.

The task force is currently conducting more than 400 counter terror investigations. These range from probes into Bin Laden’s network to neo-Nazis to environmental terrorists.

Each month, a task force “response” squad receives as many as a dozen new tips about possible nuclear, biological or chemical terrorism in New Jersey. These range from citizen concerns about a mysterious powder to the report that three ships were sailing to New Jersey with radiological material on board. Squad members were even dispatched to Emerson last month after school administrators received a threat to blow up schools.

Undercover agents attend all professional football games at Giants Stadium. Agents also plan to monitor the upcoming Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park Racetrack.

Task force agents routinely travel overseas. One is currently in Iraq; another is in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, helping to question suspected al-Qaida captives at the U.S. naval base there. Newark-based agents also played a role in the investigation of the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and provided information to assist the interrogation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Task force agents say they are united by one common fear — that they may overlook information that could stop a potential terrorist attack. Indeed, almost every office seems to contain some reminder of the 9/11 attacks.

‘Daily reminder’

In weighing his own fear of an attack, Cruise noted that northern New Jersey has a wide range of tempting and vulnerable targets, from tunnels and bridges to sports venues, shopping malls and chemical plants.

“My greatest fear in New Jersey is that somebody or some group will slip through our grasp,” he said.

Scott Nawrocki, the FBI agent who directs the task force’s special response squad, keeps a photograph of the World Trade Center on the wall by his desk. On the opposite wall is a poster with a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb. “The first things I see are a daily reminder of why I’m here,” Nawrocki said.

But he added that it’s dangerous for his counter terror agents to fall into the trap of assuming that future terrorists will try to duplicate the 9/11 attacks.

“We use our imagination when we conduct assessments,” Nawrocki said.

William Sweeney Jr., whose squad monitors potential terrorists in Hudson County, said some tips for local investigations can originate in the unlikeliest places.

In one case, Sweeney described how U.S. soldiers confiscated a laptop computer when they captured a suspected al-Qaida operative in Iraq. When the laptop’s files were examined, investigators discovered several New Jersey phone numbers.

“Why was a person in New Jersey in the address book of a bad guy picked up in Iraq?” Sweeney asked. “We have to check it out.”

He declined to describe the result. But the process, described by Sweeney, is not uncommon for the task force.

As a result, task force agents are in daily contact with officials at the CIA and other American intelligence agencies who monitor phone and Internet traffic from North Jersey to known operatives for al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

“I talk to them 10 times a day,” Jupin said of the CIA.

Listening in

Cruise holds several top-secret intelligence briefings each week with fellow agents as well as police from such small towns as Old Tappan and Ho-Ho-Kus.

Amid the wash of tips and ongoing cases, though, Cruise said the task force has to make difficult calculations — especially when monitoring phone or Internet contacts.

“If it’s somebody who is simply communicating with somebody who is known to be an al-Qaida operative, that in itself is not illegal,” Cruise said. “It’s what they intend to do.”

To better understand some of his enemies, Cruise even listens to Arabic language CDs during his commute. But he tries to keep himself and his agents from becoming too confident.

“We have better security measures in place and we have better intelligence,” he said. “But we are still vulnerable.”

E-mail: kellym@northjersey.com

Copyright © 2007 North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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