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Gov. Christie Addresses NJ Muslim Community In Midst Of NYPD Surveillance

Gov. Chris Christie/file (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Gov. Chris Christie/file (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has reassured Muslim leaders he remains troubled by the way the New York Police Department conducted surveillance of Muslim communities in New Jersey.

He again stopped short of criticizing the spying itself, and his administration maintains the surveillance was legal.

The governor has said little publicly about his administration’s findings in late May that the NYPD did not violate state laws in its multi-state surveillance, which included infiltrating student groups, videotaping mosque-goers and collecting license plates when they prayed. The findings angered Muslim leaders, who  filed a lawsuit against the NYPD in June in response to the surveillance of Muslim-Americans.

But at a Ramadan dinner he hosted in late July at the governor’s residence in Princeton, Christie did repeat his limited criticism of the operations, focusing on the lack of communication with law enforcement agencies in New Jersey, according to a cellphone video of his remarks posted online by an attendee.

“As much as the folks in New York may think they know us, they don’t,” the governor said. “Nor would they hesitate for a moment in raising the same objections I’m raising if the shoe were on the other foot. If we were to be going into New York all the time, invading their space, and not advising the almighty NYPD, you can imagine the ruckus we would hear from Commissioner (Raymond) Kelly and Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg and the gang on the other side of the Hudson River.”

After stories by The Associated Press detailed the covert activities, Christie accused the NYPD of acting like “masters of the universe.” When the attorney general reviewed the operations at his request and concluded in May that no New Jersey laws were broken, the governor said only that “if that’s what he determined, it’s good enough for me.”  The NYPD has vigorously defended the program as justified and legal.

Several Ramadan dinner attendees said they were disappointed Christie framed the NYPD actions as a violation of state sovereignty, instead of civil rights.

Elijah Muhammad, who attended as a representative of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the key issue for the Muslim community is they are still being spied upon, and nothing is being done about it.

“He missed an opportunity to reassure the people that our rights are being protected,” Muhammad said.

Christie’s spokesman did not return requests for comment on this year’s Ramadan dinner, which is hosted annually by every administration at the governor’s official residence. The dinner marks the breaking of the daily fast that Muslims observe during the holy month.

Imam Mustafa El-Amin of the Newark-based Masjid Ibrahim, which was included in an NYPD report on the mosques in New Jersey’s largest city, said he took issue with the attorney general’s findings that no New Jersey laws had been violated. Nevertheless, he said that he felt Christie was sincere in wanting to maintain good relationships with Muslims.

“We may differ on whether (the NYPD) broke any rules; I don’t think Christie was saying the surveillance was wrong, as he’s said it before, that to him it’s a matter of national security, but to me he came across as genuine,” El-Amin said. “There was no media there, nobody made him do this, and this was a very strong gesture, especially in light of everything that’s going on.”