"Every Muslim is a potential terrorist? It is completely unacceptable," he said. "It really tarnishes all of us and tarnishes our system of values."
Al-Ansar Center, a windowless Sunni mosque, opened in Brooklyn several years ago, attracting young Arabs and South Asians. NYPD officers feared the mosque was a breeding ground for terrorists, so informants kept tabs on it.
One NYPD report noted that members were fixing up the basement, turning it into a gym.
"They also want to start Jiujitsu classes," it said.
The NYPD was particularly alarmed about Mohammad Elshinawy, 26, an Islamic teacher at several New York mosques, including Al-Ansar. Elshinawy was a Salafist — a follower of a puritanical Islamic movement — whose father was an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center attacks, according to NYPD documents.
The FBI also investigated whether Elshinawy recruited people to wage violent jihad overseas. But the two agencies investigated him very differently.
The FBI closed the case after many months without any charges. Federal investigators never infiltrated Al-Ansar.
"Nobody had any information the mosque was engaged in terrorism activities," a former federal law enforcement official recalled, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the investigation.
The NYPD wasn't convinced. A 2008 surveillance document described Elshinawy as "a young spiritual leader (who) lectures and gives speeches at dozens of venues" and noted, "He has orchestrated camping trips and paintball trips."
The NYPD deemed him a threat in part because "he is so highly regarded by so many young and impressionable individuals."
No part of Elshinawy's life was out of bounds. His mosque was the target of a TEI. The NYPD conducted surveillance at his wedding. An informant recorded the wedding and police videotaped everyone who came and went.
"We have nothing on the lucky bride at this time but hopefully will learn about her at the service," one lieutenant wrote.