New York City Muslim Cleric Hate

Imam pleads guilty in NYC terror case

March 4, 2010

NEW YORK — An imam linked to the suspects in an aborted suicide bomb plot against New York City pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to the FBI — a deal sparing him serious jail time but forcing him to leave the country.

A tearful Ahmad Afzali told a judge in federal court in Brooklyn that he had wanted to help authorities in the investigation of the threat, but lied under grilling by the FBI about his phone conversations with admitted al-Qaida associate Najibullah Zazi.

"In doing so, I failed to live up to my obligation to this country, my community, my family and my religion," he said. "I am truly sorry."

Under the plea deal, Afzali faces up to six months behind bars at sentencing on April 8. It also requires the Afghanistan-born defendant to leave the country within 90 days after completing the sentence or face deportation.

Afterward, he told reporters, "I just signed my death sentence."

Afzali, 39, was arrested in September as federal authorities scrambled to thwart a plot by Zazi, a Colorado airport van driver who pleaded guilty last week to terror charges. Zazi admitted that he tested bomb-making materials in a Denver suburb before traveling by car to New York intending to attack the subway system to avenge U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

After the New York Police Department was alerted to the possible threat, detectives reached out to Afzali to gather information about Zazi and two other men the imam knew from a Queens mosque, Adis Medunjanin and Zarein Ahmedzay. Authorities say the former high school classmates traveled together in 2008 to Pakistan, where Zazi received explosives training.

"I had known them when they were boys, and did not think they were capable of serious crime," Afzali said in court. "I thought perhaps they had fallen in with the wrong crowd."

The imam said he told Zazi "that law enforcement authorities had been to see me about him. ... I told Zazi, 'Don't get involved in Afghanistan garbage and Iraq garbage. That's my advice to you.'"

At the time of the conversation, Zazi had already disposed of the bomb-making materials after a police stop on the way into the city. After the call from Afzali, he flew back to Colorado.

A few days later, under questioning by the FBI, Afzali said he panicked.

"I believed that the FBI was angry at me for calling Zazi," he said. "When I was asked whether I had told Zazi about law enforcement being interested in him, I lied and said I did not."

Medunjanin and Ahmedzay have pleaded not guilty to charges they sought to join Zazi in what prosecutors described as "three coordinated suicide bombing attacks" on Manhattan subway lines that were timed for one of three days after the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Prosecutors say the attacks were modeled after the July 2005 bombings on the London transit system. Four suicide bombers killed 52 people and themselves in an attack on three subway trains and a bus in London.


City to Review Hiring of Chaplains After an Attempt to Carry Blades Into Jail

The New York Times
Published: February 4, 2010

It was not clear what was more surprising initially to city officials: that one of the Department of Correction’s chaplains was accused of taking scissors and metal blades into a jail, or that the same chaplain had been convicted of murder.

Both disclosures about the chaplain, Imam Zulqarnain Abdu-Shahid, have led the Correction Department to conduct a review of the circumstances of his hiring.

While the review has not been completed, correction officials said Thursday that the department was aware of the chaplain’s second-degree murder conviction before he was hired, two years ago.

Stephen J. Morello, a department spokesman, said background checks were required for all job applicants, including chaplains. Applicants also must submit to interviews and a fingerprint check. Candidates are required to “self-disclose” any criminal record, he said.

But a conviction, even for murder, does not necessarily disqualify a candidate from a civilian job like a chaplain’s — though it does disqualify applicants who want to be correction officers.

The only “civil service required qualification” for hiring a chaplain, Mr. Morello said, is to obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from the candidate’s denomination, which in the case of Muslims would come from the Majlis Ash-Shura of New York, in Wyandanch.

Records show that Imam Abdu-Shahid was found guilty, along with three other men, of murdering a customer during a robbery of a supermarket in Harlem in December 1976. He served nearly 14 years in state prison, and was paroled from Sing Sing in 1993, officials said.

On Wednesday, Imam Abdu-Shahid was charged with various counts of promoting prison contraband after he was intercepted with a pair of scissors and three metal blades in his bag as he tried to enter a jail in Lower Manhattan, according to the city’s Department of Investigation.

He was held on $50,000 bond after his arraignment. His lawyer, James M. McQueeney, said the chaplain had reformed his life since his murder arrest.

Asked if it was a benefit for the department to employ seasoned chaplains who might better relate to prisoners because of their range of life experiences, Mr. Morello referred to the civil service guidelines.

“It’s not part of the job requirement,” he said.

Mr. Morello said there were about 50 clergy members on the department’s staff of chaplains, representing different denominations. Some are full-time, salaried employees; others work part time. He could not say how many had criminal records.

Imam Abdu-Shahid was not the first chaplain in the Correction Department to have his criminal past cited amid disciplinary problems.

Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil was suspended in 2006 because of remarks he made about the White House being occupied by terrorists. Last year, he was among those disciplined in connection with a bar mitzvah party arranged in a city jail by a part-time chaplain, Rabbi Leib Glanz, for the son of a prisoner, officials said.

Rabbi Glanz resigned last June, officials said.

Correction officials knew Imam Abdul-Jalil had a criminal history when they hired him in 1993, eventually promoting him to chief chaplain. Mr. Morello, however, said he was unsure of the specifics of his criminal background.

“I know he had a criminal record,” Mr. Morello said. As for the details, he added, “I cannot say for sure.”

As for Imam Abdu-Shahid, Mr. Morello said, “His background was investigated when he was hired” and the necessary ecclesiastical endorsement was obtained.

Dora B. Schriro, the new commissioner of the Department of Correction, has suspended Imam Abdu-Shahid without pay, threatened further punishment and called for a departmental review of the vetting process that allowed him to be hired in 2007.

“I think all of the policies, involving allowing certain imams access to our prisoners, have been an example of political correctness run amok,” said Peter F. Vallone Jr., the chairman of the City Council’s Committee on Public Safety. “Clearly, some of these people should never have been allowed access to prisoners.”

Law enforcement and public safety agencies generally bar those with criminal convictions from serving; Mr. Morello said that a felony conviction would prevent an applicant for a correction officer’s position from being hired.

In the New York Police Department, there is a firm rule against hiring anyone — potential police officers or civilians — with a felony conviction, said Paul J. Browne, the department’s chief spokesman. While those with misdemeanor convictions might, in theory, be eligible for a job, it is, “highly unlikely” in practice, said Mr. Browne. If a misdemeanor conviction indicates a record of dishonesty, or domestic violence, it is an automatic bar, he said.

The same is true in the Fire Department, where felony convictions bar candidacy, said Francis X. Gribbon, the chief department spokesman. As for misdemeanors, “You can get on with a misdemeanor, on a case by case basis,” he said. “Some misdemeanors are really bad.”

Firefighting and law enforcement require skills far different from those needed by someone in the clergy, who minister to spiritual needs. A spokesman for the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association declined to comment on the issue, saying that hiring was an administrative task, while pointing out that the discovery of blades being taken into a jail exposed the dangers officers face each day.


Chaplain Is Found With Blades at City Jail

The New York Times
Published: February 3, 2010

A Muslim chaplain for the city’s Department of Correction showed up for work on Wednesday as he routinely does — entering the city jail in Lower Manhattan to minister to some of the roughly 900 male inmates there.

But when the chaplain, Imam Zulqarnain Abu-Shahid, flung his shoulder bag onto an X-ray machine at the entrance of the Manhattan Detention Complex, at 125 White Street, officers were alerted to the presence of metal. They found a pair of scissors and three metal blades, the kind used in box cutters, in the bag’s outer flap, the authorities said.

Imam Abu-Shahid was arrested and charged with various counts of promoting prison contraband.

Later, officials made another discovery: The chaplain was an ex-convict who had been found guilty with three other men of the murder of a customer during a robbery of a supermarket in Harlem in 1976.

The chaplain’s name at the time was Paul Pitts, officials said.

He served nearly 14 years in state prison before being released on parole in 1993, said Erik Kriss, a spokesman for the State Department of Correctional Services. His conviction in 1979 occurred after what, at the time, was described as the longest criminal trial in the history of the State Supreme Court system.

Some of the chaplain’s background came out at his arraignment in Manhattan Criminal Court on Wednesday evening.

Alexandra Lane, an assistant district attorney, did not explain any potential motive for why Imam Abu-Shahid, 58, took the blades and scissors into the jail.

James M. McQueeney, the chaplain’s lawyer, said that his client did not know the blades were in the bag when he entered the jail. He said that was what Imam Abu-Shahid told officers at the X-ray machine.

The officers allowed Imam Abu-Shahid to go to his work station on a lower floor, but detained him later, when he came back upstairs, Mr. McQueeney said.

As for the chaplain’s past, Mr. McQueeney said, “He has completely reformed his life” and lives with his wife and two children on Staten Island.

Officials with the city’s Department of Correction said that the chaplain, who joined the department in February 2007 and earns $49,471 a year, was immediately suspended without pay.

“Additional steps, up to and including dismissal, will be pursued consistent with the findings of the Department of Investigation,” Dora Schriro, the commissioner of the Correction Department, said in a statement.

Stephen J. Morello, a Correction Department spokesman, later added that in light of the chaplain’s criminal background, Ms. Schriro “has directed a full review of the circumstances of his hiring.” He said that Imam Abu-Shahid had been regularly assigned to the Manhattan Detention Complex, also known as the Tombs.

Officials said that Imam Abu-Shahid was in a group of men who were trapped by the police in the Finast Supermarket at 529 Lenox Avenue on Dec. 9, 1976, after a customer, Philip Crawford, 30, had been shot and killed during the robbery. 


City chaplain's comments spark outrage

He's the head of Islamic chaplains for the city's corrections department

Eyewitness News' Nina Pineda

- The head of Islamic chaplains with the city's corrections department is on administrative leave.

During a secretly recorded speech, he's heard trashing President Bush and complaining about what he calls Zionists in the media. Is it extremism or freedom of speech?

Eyewitness News Reporter Nina Pineda is in Harlem with the story.

As the director of ministerial services, Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil supervisors about 1500 employees in the city's Department of Corrections. They service 100,000 inmates.

So you have to ask, does or does not the city have the right to regulate or look into what he says as a civil service employee of the city.

Seen at Mayor Bloomberg's inauguration, Imam Umar Abdul-Jalil is doing what he's been called on to do by what Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Pataki especially since 9/11 to promote tolerance and understanding.

Mayor Bloomberg: "We put the chaplain on administrative leave at eight o'clock this morning."

The chaplain was asked to leave immediately and have no contact with inmates after the city learned that he made statements construed by some as derogatory against Jews and the government of the United States.

On the tape, he says: "We have to stop allowing as the imam said to be reactionary, the Zionists of the media to dictate what Islam is to us."

He goes on to say: "We know that the greatest terrorists in the world occupy the White House without a doubt."

In another speech, made at the same Islamic conference in Arizona to the Muslim Student Association, the imam talks about Muslims being tortured in New York City.

Abdul-Jalil: "They are not charged with anything, they are not entitled to any rights, they are interrogated. Some of them are literally tortured and we found this in our facility in the metropolitan correctional facility which is the federal facility in Manhattan. But they are literally torturing people."

Wassim Nasr, Council on Islamic Relations: "There are other things that are the truth in his statements. For example, harsh treatment of Muslim prisoners at the Metropolitan Detention Center and the jails in New York, so I think we can't mix the two together. And even if it was his opinion, this is America and we are allowed to express our opinions publicly."

While the Council on Islamic Relations doesn't agree with all the statements, the director examined the transcripts with us and defended the imam's right to expression. But the organization named The Investigative Group in Washington, D.C. -- which made the secret recordings -- slammed the imam for trying to install hatred of the U.S.

Josh Schrager, The Investigative Group: "We have a man in the public's trust that is talking to prisoners, spousing anti-semetic comments, spousing anti-American comments."

The imam responded by saying, "I'm very saddened and offended that as an African American that someone would have the audacity to question my citizenship and love of this country."

The imam has a mosque here in Harlem and will meet with the Council of Islamic Imams. He will make a statement to the press on Friday.