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But officials involved in the program said there was no specific threat to New York from Moroccans. The Moroccan Initiative thwarted no plots and led to no arrests, officials said.


Much of the information in the Moroccan Initiative was gathered by a secretive squad known as the Demographics Unit. Using plainclothes officers known as “rakers,” the squad infiltrated local businesses and community organizations looking for trouble or “hot spots.” Their daily reports helped create searchable databases of life in New York’s Muslim neighborhoods.

One NYPD official said that unit identified a Brooklyn bookstore as a hot spot. That led police to open an investigation and send in an informant and undercover detective, ultimately leading to the arrests of two men in the Herald Square case.

The work of that secret unit, the official said, helped the NYPD arrest a Pakistani immigrant named Shahawar Matin Siraj and foiled an attack.

For years, police have said publicly that the Herald Square case began with a tip but have not elaborated. Siraj’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, said prosecutors provided no documents related to the Demographics Unit at trial.

Siraj was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in federal prison in 2007. But defense attorneys, and even some inside the NYPD intelligence unit, said police had coaxed the men into making incriminating statements and there was no proof Siraj ever obtained explosives.

The case is arguably the NYPD’s greatest counterterrorism success. But there are others.

The NYPD played an important role in the case against Carlos Amonte and Mohammed Alessa, two New Jersey men who pleaded guilty to charges they tried to leave the country in 2010 to join the al-Qaida-linked terrorist group al-Shabaab. The FBI long had been aware of the two men but had been unable to win their trust with an informant or undercover agent, federal officials said. The NYPD, with its deep roster of Muslim officers, provided the undercover officer who ultimately succeeded in winning their confidence.

When the NYPD’s effectiveness is questioned, the department’s most ardent supporters frequently point to a long list of terrorist plots said to have targeted New York since 9/11. The list often is described as plots thwarted by the NYPD.

“One can’t argue with results,” said Peter Vallone, the New York city councilman who heads the Public Safety Committee. “The results of this gargantuan effort have been that at least 13 planned attacks on New York City have been prevented.”

In reality, however, the NYPD played little or no role in preventing many of those attacks.

Some, like a cyanide plot against the subway system, were discovered among evidence obtained overseas but were never set into motion. Others, like the 2006 plot to blow up U.S.-bound airliners using liquid explosives, were thwarted by U.S. and international authorities, and plans never got off the ground.

And some, like the 2008 subway plot, went unnoticed by the NYPD despite the money and manpower devoted to monitoring Muslim communities, according to the NYPD files obtained by the AP. The files along with interviews show the NYPD was monitoring Zazi’s mosque, and also the Muslim student organization Medunjanin attended. Zazi and Medunjanin were friends and had been praying together regularly since 9th grade. As the years passed, Zazi grew increasingly upset about civilians killed by the U.S. military in Afghanistan; Medunjanin was outraged by the way Muslims were treated at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, and he promoted jihad at the mosque and after basketball games with friends, according to court documents. He said his friends didn’t have the “balls” to do anything.

The plot was discovered after U.S. intelligence intercepted an email revealing that Zazi was trying to make a bomb.

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