One man was a food cart vendor from Afghanistan, arrested during an argument with a parking enforcement officer over a ticket. Another was an Egyptian-born limousine driver, picked up in a prostitution sting. Still another was an accounting student from Pakistan, in custody for driving without a valid license.
The men, all Muslim immigrants, went through similar ordeals: Waiting in a New York station house cell or a lockup facility, expecting to be arraigned, only to be pulled aside and questioned by detectives. The queries were not about the charges against them, but about where they went to mosque and what their prayer habits were. Eventually, the detectives got to the point: Would they work for the police, eavesdropping in Muslim cafes and restaurants, or in mosques?
Beginning a few years after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a squad of detectives, known as the Citywide Debriefing Team, has combed the city's jails for immigrants — predominantly Muslims — who might be persuaded to become police informants, according to documents obtained by The New York Times, along with interviews with former members of the unit and senior police officials.