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NYC signs on to controversial counterterror program

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, left,

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, is joined by United States Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch during the launch of the Strong Cities Network to Strengthen Community Resilience Against Violent Extremism conference, at U.N. Headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. Credit: AP / Mary Altaffer

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed a United Nations forum Tuesday to support a controversial federal program aimed at disrupting recruiting by Islamic extremists.

By agreeing to participate in a U.S. Department of Justice-backed Strong Cities Network as part of a global effort to counter "violent extremism," the Democratic mayor has drawn the ire of a coalition of civil liberties, human rights and community-based organizations. They complained in a letter last week that such efforts are "stigmatizing Muslim communities as suspicious."

De Blasio's speech did not focus solely on Islamic terrorists, but cited a broader range of extremist violence, including the June slayings of nine people at a black church in South Carolina for which a white supremacist has been charged.

Other localities represented at the "network launch" included Minneapolis; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Paris; and Mombasa, Kenya. The network connects municipal leaders and encourages information sharing.

Protecting cities from extremists, de Blasio said, means fostering "diversity," "a sense of social cohesion" and "showing people that everyone has opportunity and meaning in our society."

Asked about the complaints raised in the groups' letter, top de Blasio spokeswoman Karen Hinton said: "We share their concerns, but we can be more effective representing them at the table than not at the table."

Hinton, who said that being involved allows the administration to address concerns from within, said the city wasn't creating its own program but joining a network of municipalities, some of which have such programs.

Critics in the letter say that other places where the program has been implemented have asked school personnel to flag students they believe are at risk, a task for such personnel are unqualified -- and that results in Muslims being targeted almost exclusively.

Also troubling to the groups are seemingly innocuous efforts to build bridges with a community that then turn into intelligence-gathering operations.

Corey Saylor, director of the department to monitor and combat Islamophobia at the Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the program "puts the government in the place of white-listing and blacklisting various forms of Islam."

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