NEW YORK - The New York Police Department recommended increasing surveillance of thousands of Shi’ite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists, according to interviews and a newly obtained secret police document.
The document offers a rare glimpse into the thinking of NYPD intelligence officers and how, when looking for potential threats, they focused their spying efforts on mosques and Muslims. Police analysts listed a dozen mosques from central Connecticut to the Philadelphia suburbs. None has been linked to terrorism, either in the document or publicly by federal agencies.
It has been reported for months that the NYPD infiltrated mosques, eavesdropped in cafes, and monitored Muslim neighborhoods with plainclothes officers.
Its spying operations began after the 2001 terror attacks with help from the CIA in a highly unusual partnership.
The May 2006 NYPD intelligence report, entitled “US-Iran Conflict: The Threat to New York City,’’ made a series of recommendations, including: “Expand and focus intelligence collections at Shi’ite mosques.’’
The NYPD is prohibited under its own guidelines and city law from basing its investigations on religion. Under FBI guidelines, which the NYPD says it follows, many of the recommendations in the police document would be prohibited.
The report, drawn largely from information available in newspapers or sites like Wikipedia, was prepared for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. It was written at a time of great tension between the United States and Iran. That tension over Iran’s nuclear ambition has increased again recently.
Police estimated the New York area Shi’ite population to be about 35,000, with Iranians making up about 8,500. The document also calls for canvassing the Palestinian community because there might be terrorists there.
“The Palestinian community, although not Shi’ites, should also be assessed due to presence of Hamas members and sympathizers and the group’s relationship with the Iranian government,’’ analysts wrote.
The secret document stands in contrast to statements by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who said the NYPD never considers religion in its policing. Kelly has said police go only where investigative leads take them, but the document described no leads to justify expanded surveillance at Shi’ite mosques.
The document also renews debate over how the NYPD privately views Muslims. Kelly has faced calls for his resignation recently from some Muslim activists for participating in a video that says Muslims want to “infiltrate and dominate’’ the United States. The NYPD showed the video to nearly 1,500 officers during training.
Previously obtained documents show widespread NYPD infiltration of mosques. It is not clear, however, whether the May 2006 report prompted police to infiltrate the mosques on the list. One former police official who has seen the report said that, generally, the recommendations were followed, but he could not say for sure whether these mosques were infiltrated.
A current law enforcement official, also familiar with the report, said that since it was issued the NYPD learned that Hezbollah was more political than religious and concluded that it is not effective to monitor Shi’ites.
Both insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the program.
Neither David Cohen, the NYPD’s top intelligence officer, nor department spokesman Paul Browne responded to e-mails or phone calls this week.
Iran is an overwhelmingly Shi’ite country, but Shi’ites are a small percentage of the US Muslim population.
By contrast, Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization, and many US leaders consider Shi’ite clerics as allies in the fight against homegrown extremism. Shi’ites are often oppressed overseas, and many have sought asylum in the West.