June 6th, 2012
12:47 PM ET
By Kristina Sgueglia, CNN
(CNN) - New Jersey Muslims filed a lawsuit against the City of New York on Wednesday, accusing police of using unconstitutional tactics to spy on them in the years after September 11, casting an unwarranted shadow of suspicion on the community.
"The NYPD's program targeted innocent Americans solely based on their religious identity," said Farhana Khera, president and executive director of the legal advocacy group Muslim Advocates, which filed the suit on behalf of the eight plaintiffs.
"That's why we believe it is unlawful and needs to stop," Khera said.
Muslim Advocates says it wants an end to the department's "invasive and discriminatory" surveillance program, which it claims targeted at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools and two Muslim student associations throughout New Jersey. The group also wants all related records from the covert program expunged, according to the complaint.
According to NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, police were in compliance with overarching counterterrorism efforts and standards.
"I refer you to the New Jersey Attorney General's report and to the fact that NYPD activities in New Jersey were lawful, appropriate, and in keeping with efforts there, in New York, and around the world to prevent terrorists from returning here to kill more New Yorkers," Browne said in e-mail.
In May, after a three-month review, New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa declared that New York police did not violate any laws when they carried out surveillance programs across state lines.
The details of the program emerged in August and included a 60-page report, obtained by The Associated Press, showing NYPD maps of Newark and photographs of Muslims' residences and mosques. There was no statement in the document regarding terrorism or criminal activity.
W. Deen Shareef of the Council of Imams in New Jersey, which is among the plaintiffs, said more people are uncomfortable with coming to the mosque to pray because they feel that they are being watched.
"People are concerned with going about their day-to-day life," Shareef said.
The owners of a Newark halal grocery store, also suing the city, say they lost a lot of regular customers since photographs of the market emerged in the report.
"It has draped a blanket of suspicion over the Muslim-American community and over the people outside of the community that associate with its members," Shareef said.
Shareef, Khera and the other plaintiffs - including a decorated U.S. Army Reservist and a Rutgers College student - say they hope this lawsuit will help lift that blanket.
"What makes America great is that we don't treat each other differently based on on how someone looks or how someone prays," Khera said.
"The Constitution guarantees that every American can be treated equally under law, and we expect government officials to do the same."
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