Officer Goes Undercover in Terror Fight

Posted on May 6, 2010

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By JOEL STONINGTON

After the failed attempt to bomb Times Square, New York police are dispatching more officers to be seen on the streets, around landmarks and on subways.

But there’s one tactic they hope won’t go noticed at all: getting inside the bands of terrorists-in-the-making.

That’s why a young Bangladeshi immigrant working undercover found himself among a dozen men at an Islamic bookstore in Brooklyn one day in 2004 to watch videos of U.S. soldiers being slain.

“That made these guys pumped up and happy,” the officer said. “It’s like a party at a club. They were hitting the walls with excitement. One guy even broke a chair.”

Among the revelers: Shahawar Matin Siraj, who would be sentenced in January 2007 to 30 years in prison for an August 2004 plot to blow up Herald Square. “He loved talking about doing jihad,” said the officer.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the undercover officer described four years embedded with Brooklyn radicals, a stint which began a few months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks and ended with his testimony at Mr. Siraj’s trial in mid-2006.

Police and the officer declined to make his identity public. In court records in the trial of Mr. Siraj, he was identified by his undercover name, Kamil Pasha.

David Cohen, deputy commissioner for intelligence of the New York Police Department, said such undercover operations have become the city’s main defense amid the escalation of threats and plots since the attack on the World Trade Center nearly a decade ago.

The 30-year-old officer spent his childhood in Brooklyn and Queens, where he went to high school. He joined the force after graduating from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2001. He said his undercover work has remained a secret to his friends, siblings and parents. During the posting, he told his parents he was working for a private security firm, and they now know he works for the police department.

He received individualized training so few would know he was a police officer; there would be no buddies from the academy to recognize him on the street. He said undercover investigators must walk a delicate line by playing the role of a potential terrorist and friend while refraining from pushing a plot forward.

The officer said only a few other members of the department knew of the life he developed in Brooklyn, as he rented an apartment, bought furniture, joined a local gym and slowly sought to become part of the community.

Mustafah Abdulaziz for The Wall Street Journal Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence David Cohen
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He attempted to maintain as much of his everyday personality as possible; he didn’t change his habit of attending a mosque with some regularity, and he sought to make friends among the community.

The officer said he fit the profile of the young men he sought to meet: middle-class, first- or second-generation Americans in their late teens or early 20s. He said he watched the radicalization process of dozens. [more]

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Posted in: Islam