OK, I will ask. If the police are paying informers -- one Osama Eldawoody, to be specific -- to attend services at two New York mosques, why have the authorities focused on those two sites? Are the police simply harassing the biggest sanctuaries in town? Have these mosques -- the al-Noor mosque on Staten Island and the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn -- been visited by speakers who, in the past, have incited people to violence? Are the mosques linked to schools in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia with long track records of Wahhabi activism and education work, the kind that often plants the seeds of anger that can grow into al-Qaeda ties? Are the police just being mean?
For the life of me, I can't find any clues in William K. Rashbaum's New York Times piece that ran with the headline "Informer in Bomb Plot Trial Tells of His Visits to Mosques."
Mr. Eldawoody had earlier testified that he had been told to keep "his eyes and ears open for any radical thing," but many of the details that came out during questioning seemed mundane: How many people attended a service. How long it lasted. The name of the imam who spoke.
A frequent phrase in the reports he made to the police was, "the service was religious in nature." What he reported sometimes seemed like small talk among worshipers.
Now, if you say that British police are interested in a young Arab male who is known to frequent the Brixton mosque in South London, you know that they are trying to find out if he has become connected with Islamists with ties in that community. The police know that there are moderate Muslims, mainstream Muslims and Muslims active in various forms of radical Islam. They know that some Muslims are wonderful citizens and that a few are Islamists who are dedicated to acts of terror against those they consider infidels, Jews and Crusaders -- with the word "infidel" often attached to Muslims with differing views on crucial cultural and doctrinal issues.
So what was the informer supposed to be listening for? What are the doctrinal differences between these mosques? Did anyone ask?
The details in Rashbaum's report are so strange and banal. Are we simply dealing with simple state harassment? I mean, consider this dialogue with a lawyer in the case, Martin Stolar:
At one point, he questioned the witness about a report that indicated that he had written down the license plate numbers of worshipers at a mosque.
"I was asked to do that," Mr. Eldawoody replied.
"Who asked you?" Mr. Stolar said.
"The detective," he said.
"He told you to go out and write down the license plates of people who attended services?" the lawyer asked.
"Yes," Mr. Eldawoody replied.
Like I said: Why those mosques? Why chase these particular worshipers?