The trial of Shahawar Matin Siraj, a 23-year-old Pakistani immigrant charged with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in New York City has inadvertently uncovered how at least some police forces go about pre-empting terrorism – by taking a close and comprehensive look at mosques, not churches, synagogues, or Hindu Temples.
Osama Eldawoody, 50, a nuclear engineer who immigrated to America in 1986, served as a paid police informer and is the central witness in the Siraj case. For several hours yesterday, he replied to questions from Martin R. Stolar, one of Siraj's lawyers. The cross-examination focused on Eldawoody's collecting information on visits to al-Noor mosque on Staten Island and the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn during 2003-04, when he secretly recorded about two dozen conversations about the plot with Siraj.
Eldawoody earlier had testified about his instructions to keep "his eyes and ears open for any radical thing" and about his reports on such things as the number of people who attended a service, the duration of the service, and the name of the imam.
For a report on the court testimony yesterday, I quote the New York Times account by William K. Rashbaum:
Using reports filed by the detective, which were piled roughly two inches high on a table beside him, Mr. Stolar asked the witness about his registration as a paid informer in July 2003 and questioned him about each mosque visit. Sometimes there were several visits in one day. Mr. Stolar questioned him about the documents filed by the detective, Stephen Andrews — which reflected information Mr. Eldawoody had provided, by telephone or in person — asking if he recalled making the reports.
At one point, Mr. Stolar asked about a report indicating that he had told the detective that the imam of the Staten Island mosque was looking for a new house in New Jersey. Mr. Eldawoody said that he did not recall giving that information. At another, the lawyer asked about a report suggesting Mr. Eldawoody had suspicions about a man named Maher, who was looking for foreclosure properties to buy. Mr. Eldawoody said he did not remember that.
And he asked about Mr. Eldawoody's reasons for reporting another conversation: "How did the fact that somebody wanted to open a new mosque on Staten Island relate to the mission that you thought you were doing, which was looking for violent jihad or radical talk?" …
Mr. Stolar has said he intends to put the Police Department's tactics on trial, and at the beginning of his cross-examination, which he said would last several days, he suggested that he would focus closely on Mr. Eldawoody's actions and how the department supervised him.
At one point, he questioned the witness about a report that indicated that he had written down the license plate numbers of worshipers at a mosque. "I was asked to do that," Mr. Eldawoody replied. "Who asked you?" Mr. Stolar said. "The detective," he said. "He told you to go out and write down the license plates of people who attended services?" the lawyer asked. "Yes," Mr. Eldawoody replied.
Comment: This is precisely what law enforcement should be doing and denies it is doing. Better it deny and do it than the reverse, but best of all for everyone concerned would be to come clean. Anyway, aren't the police supposed to be truthful? (May 2, 2006)
June 13, 2006 update: I have written up this topic at "Does the Police Department Profile? Should It?"
Jan. 8, 2007 update: Siraj was sentenced to 30 years in prison.