The New York Police Department's intelligence unit did not discriminate against Muslims with surveillance aimed at identifying "budding terrorist conspiracies" at mosques and other locations in the state of New Jersey, a US federal judge ruled.
In a written decision filed on Thursday in federal court in Newark, judge William Martini dismissed a civil rights lawsuit brought in 2012 by eight Muslims who alleged the NYPD's surveillance programmes were unconstitutional because they focused on religion, national origin and race. The suit had accused the department of spying on ordinary people at several mosques, restaurants and grade schools in New Jersey since 2002.
The plaintiffs, including the former principal of a primary school for Muslim girls, "have not alleged facts from which it can be plausibly inferred that they were targeted solely because of their religion", Martini wrote. "The more likely explanation for the surveillance was to locate budding terrorist conspiracies."
The judge added: "The police could not have monitored New Jersey for Muslim terrorist activities without monitoring the Muslim community itself ... The motive for the programme was not solely to discriminate against Muslims, but to find Muslim terrorists hiding among the ordinary law-abiding Muslims."
The ruling also singled out Associated Press, which sparked the suit with a series of stories based on confidential NYPD documents showing how the department sought to infiltrate dozens of mosques and Muslim student groups and investigated hundreds in New York and elsewhere.
"Nowhere in the complaint do the plaintiffs allege that they suffered harm prior to the unauthorised release of documents by The Associated Press," Martini wrote. "This confirms that plaintiffs' alleged injuries flow from the Associated Press' unauthorised disclosure of the documents ... The Associated Press covertly obtained the materials and published them without authorisation. Thus the injury, if any existed, is not fairly traceable to the city."
Farhaj Hassan, a plaintiff in the case and a US soldier who served in Iraq, said he was disappointed by the ruling.
"I have dedicated my career to serving my country, and this just feels like a slap in the face, all because of the way I pray," he said.
A similar lawsuit filed in federal court in Brooklyn is pending.