By TOM HAYS
Associated Press Writer
May 18, 2006, 4:18 PM EDT
NEW YORK -- A New York Police Department officer born in Bangladesh testified Thursday that commanders assigned him straight out of the police academy to go undercover in a Muslim neighborhood as part of their response to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The undercover investigator, who is Muslim, said at a Manhattan subway bomb plot trial in federal court that he was "told to be a member of the community, hang out and get information."
One place he hung out was an Islamic bookstore near a Brooklyn mosque, where he said he heard a Pakistani immigrant charged in the plot openly praise Osama bin Laden while damning the United States.
During a conversation on the second anniversary of the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center, Shahawar Matin Siraj "complimented bin Laden," the undercover officer told jurors.
"He said he was a talented brother and a great planner and that he hoped bin Laden planned something big for America," the officer said.
Siraj, 23, was arrested on the eve of the 2004 Republican National Convention on charges he plotted to blow up a subway station in Herald Square, a dense shopping district that includes Macy's flagship department store. If convicted, he could face up to 20 years in prison.
Defense attorneys have characterized Siraj as a harmless dupe who was entrapped by a crafty older informant in a phony plot that never got off the ground.
The trial, in its fourth week, has opened a window to how the nation's largest police department responded to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, by identifying officers of Middle Eastern or central Asian origin within its ranks and reassigning some to intelligence duty. It also hired paid civilian informants, including an Egyptian man who adopted the role of Siraj's co-conspirator after infiltrating the mosque where the defendant worshipped.
The undercover officer first appeared on Wednesday as the trial's last witness using his alias, Kamil Pasha, and prosecutors sought to limit testimony about his background and police methods. But on cross-examination on Thursday, he was forced to reveal parts of his story.
The witness testified that he came to the United States at age 7. He joined the police department in 2002 at 23 and quickly found himself on the fast track to becoming a detective.
Two weeks after he graduated from the academy, he was assigned to gather intelligence in and around the Brooklyn mosque, the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge. He claimed he was "surprised and shocked" by the anti-American tirades and other radical rhetoric about suicide bombings and terrorist training camps he overheard at the bookstore where the defendant worked as a clerk.
"I grew up with a peaceful religion," he said. "Where in Islam does it say you can blow up a train station?"
He soon began sending regular e-mail reports to his NYPD handler about Siraj. He said the defendant advocated a holy war against the United States as revenge for its support of Israel and predicted, "If the United States went to war in Iraq, there was going to be terrorist attacks here."
The undercover testified that he won the trust of Siraj by not challenging his views.
"I would pretty much agree," he said. "I would say, 'Yes, you're right."'
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.