Shahina Parveen Siraj of Jackson Heights, Queens, center, listens to...

Shahina Parveen Siraj of Jackson Heights, Queens, center, listens to speakers as she joins other Muslim group members gathered at One Police Plaza in Manhattan to voice concerns about what they believe are unproductive meetings between top police and city officials and Muslim leaders. (March 9, 2012) Credit: Craig Ruttle

As NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly reassured some Muslim leaders in a closed-door meeting Friday that they had nothing to fear from police surveillance, other Islamic leaders held a news conference to denounce the "spying" and Kelly's decision to meet with those who support the program.

Omar Mohammedi, president of the Association of Muslim American Lawyers and a member of the city's Commission on Human Rights, attended both events Friday. He said Kelly took pains to say the NYPD's observation of locations where Muslims live, work and meet in the tristate area was not "blanket surveillance."

But, Mohammedi added during the news conference attended by a dozen people who were not at Kelly's meeting, "That was not enough for us. He needs to explain these operations, stop the spying and come to our community and show us that there is nothing to hide."

Mohammedi was one of four speakers at the news conference at police headquarters in Manhattan. The speakers demanded an end to the surveillance, called for federal oversight of the NYPD's tactics and asked for an open meeting with Kelly to address the issue.

"This is an attack on American freedoms and liberties," said Meher Mohsin, 21, managing editor of Queens College's newspaper, The Knight News. "Profiling for the sake of national security is irresponsible. This is a human issue. Who will be there to stand up for you when they come at your door?"

Queens College is one of the locations the NYPD observed.

The news conference and meeting were held in the wake of Associated Press reports that police have been closely watching Muslim "communities of interest" in the city as well as on Long Island and in New Jersey and Connecticut as part of a broad counterterrorism effort since 9/11.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his weekly address Friday on WOR radio, said that the Muslim groups he has spoken to recently support the controversial program, but that they want to "keep [their] heads down and remain anonymous," AP reported.

Bloomberg has defended the NYPD program, saying it is not based on religion.

The program has unsettled many Muslims on Long Island, too, where such locations as a halal meat shop in Valley Stream and a 99-cent store in Smithtown have been watched.

"I have to calm people down," said Habeeb Ahmed, vice president of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, who said he was watched. "They are worried that the police will come after them for no reason like they did me. We have always told them that if you do nothing wrong there is nothing to worry about and that we should help police in their investigations, but right now there is no trust."

Fahd Ahmed, legal and policy director of Desis Rising Up and Moving, an organizer of the news conference, said that the Muslim groups that had met with Kelly represented only a few in the Muslim community and are already convinced that the surveillance is normal.

"They do not have credibility -- no legal backgrounds or know the history of civil rights," said Ahmed, who wants a federal investigation of the surveillance operations.

"There is a growing sense that the NYPD is out of control and that there is no accountability or transparency into what they are doing," he said.

With Maria Alvarez

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