NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered a passionate defense of the New York Police Department's secret monitoring of Muslims in communities outside of the five boroughs.
Mosques and Muslim businesses on Long Island and New Jersey have been spied upon by the NYPD Anti-Terrorism Unit and Mayor Bloomberg says that under his watch it will continue.
On his weekly radio show on WOR-AM Friday morning, Bloomberg said the NYPD's actions weren't only legal but necessary, pointing to lessons he said were forgotten after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
"This is not a joke. This is not a political statement or a political football to play with," Bloomberg said. "We are threatened."
Bloomberg called the NYPD's actions "legal," "appropriate" and "constitutional."
"They are permitted to travel beyond the borders of New York City to investigate cases, they can look at websites, they can watch television to detect unlawful activities," the mayor said.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly also added his voice to the debate, saying the surveillance outside of New York City is necessary.
"We have to be cognizant of what's going on in the surrounding area. Obviously, it would be naive to limit our focus just to the five boroughs of New York City," Kelly said.
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Kelly also responded firmly on Friday to Booker's charges.
"We informed the Newark police officials as to what we were doing," said Kelly.
Kelly said they also were escorted by Newark police and gave them a briefing when it was over.
Does the NYPD intend to continue the practice in Newark and on college campuses?
"We're going to continue to do what we have to do to protect the city," said Kelly.
Officials point to the terrorist history in the area: the 1993 bomb that was exploded in the basement of the World Trade center was built in New Jersey and Faisal Shazad, who tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, assembled the device in Connecticut, according to officials.
NYPD documents show the police department targeted dozens of businesses and religious institutions in the wake of 9/11 -- monitoring them on surveillance cameras and even cataloging the license plates of worshipers at mosques.
Much of the surveillance was conducted in Newark, N.J. by NYPD officers.
Officials -- including Sen. Robert Menendez -- are now demanding a justice department investigation. Newark Mayor Cory Booker has also said the NYPD misled his city and that he was never briefed on the extent of the NYPD's investigation.
According to a 60-page report, the NYPD's Demographics Unit fanned out across Newark in mid-2007, photographing every mosque and eavesdropping on Muslim businesses.
Bloomberg admitted the operation was coordinated through a liaison, not through Booker. He added that there is a legitimate reason to keep an eye on Newark since 9/11 hijackers met and trained in New Jersey.
"Hijackers often travel to and from New Jersey and Mohammed Atta — the ringleader of the attacks — often met with others in Newark to coordinate and plan the attacks, including selecting which flights to hijack," Bloomberg said.
Bloomberg insists no group was targeted based on race or religion saying the NYPD followed leads where they went and still does today.
"We cannot let our guard down again, we cannot slack in our vigilance," Bloomberg said. "The threat was real, the threat is real, the threat is not going away."
According to federal guidelines, police cannot investigate the everyday activities of private citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The NYPD says it needs all the background knowledge possible so that when a threat does surface they are ready.
WCBS 880's Rich Lamb With Reaction From NYC's Top Cop
Back in 2005, then New Jersey Gov. Dick Codey signed the executive orders that allowed the NYPD to cross the Hudson, and carry out surveillance operations in New Jersey.
But, as Codey told WCBS 880 on Friday, did not authorize any spying.
"All we gave them the right to do was access the railroad right-of-ways and to the ferries, because of the London bombings," he said. "My executive orders say nothing about allowing espionage, spying in colleges, mosques, or anything else."
Some Muslim organizations held a rally Friday to show solidarity with a mosque in Paterson that was identified as a target for surveillance in a 2006 police report.
WCBS 880's Monica Miller At The Rally In Paterson
Mahmoud Attallah from the Omar Mosque says they have open door policy to anyone who wants to talk and have already built a relationship with federal investigators.
"NYPD could have picked up the phone and dialed the mosque's number and say 'We would like to come in and listen. Fine. We'll provide a chair, and we'll provide a translator also," he said Friday.
Attallah says the roughly 2,000 members don't understand what business the NYPD had in New Jersey.
But now the report is out, he wonders what they found.
"Okay, you did it. Now what? Did you find out any terrorists here? he asked.
WCBS 880's Peter Haskell With Reaction In Newark
"The joke is whenever our tape of the insurgent gets lost or mistake, we say we should call the FBI to get the other copy," said Mohamed El Filali of the Islamic Center of Passaic County.
But he says this spying is no laughing matter.
"We thought that the world had learned its lesson in 1933 Germany. People were spied on just because of their religion," he said Friday.
El Filali says he has a lot of respect for Mayor Bloomberg, but the mayor's vigorous defense of these tactics leaves him at a loss.
"I am utterly disappointed at the way he conducted himself as far as this investigation is concerned," he said.
There is talk of a federal civil rights lawsuit being filed.
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