New York City lawyers told a magistrate Thursday that they would ask her to throw out a sweeping federal civil liberties lawsuit over NYPD surveillance of Muslims because the police had grounds to suspect all six of the plaintiffs of unlawful activity.
The city's allegations against two mosques, a charity and three individuals who sued ranged from reports that one plaintiff ran jihad-themed paintball exercises to information that defendants later charged in terror cases attended lectures at one of the mosques, according to a six-page letter filed in Brooklyn federal court this week.
"If it turns out that there is an adequate basis for investigating these six plaintiffs, then that's it, the case is over," city lawyer Peter Farrell said.
The lawsuit, filed in June by the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, claims the NYPD's intelligence division unconstitutionally targeted Muslims in a spying program instituted in 2001 that deployed informants and infiltrated mosques. Police reportedly labeled some mosques as "terrorism enterprises."
An ACLU lawyer told Magistrate Joan Azrack that the city's attack on the six plaintiffs was "inflammatory, incendiary innuendo," designed to dodge legal accountability for the program that displayed the same disregard for First Amendment freedoms as the lawsuit challenged.
"They are using speech, protected activities and unwitting associations as reasonable suspicion," Hina Shamsi said.
The NYPD says intelligence collection is critical to prevent terror attacks. In its formal answer to the lawsuit, filed Monday, the city admitted using informants and undercover operatives, and surveilling mosques, but said the program was not unlawful.
The ACLU and the plaintiffs want to use the case to gather documents about the full scope of the surveillance operation. They want it halted and records expunged. But Farrell said that the initial focus should be on just the six plaintiffs, and the entire case dismissed if investigations of them were justified.
Among other accusations in the letter, the city said the imam of one of the mosques that was suing had testified as a character witness for Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik convicted in a 1990s plot to bomb New York landmarks.
The city said it had "information" that one individual suing, Mohammed Elshinawy, had "made statements" supporting violent jihad, and another, Asad Dandia, tried to organize a trip to Pakistan to train with "extremists."