New York City police have been recruiting immigrants, most of them Muslims, in the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001, to act as informants by eavesdropping in cafes, restaurants and mosques it has been reported.

Citing documents it had obtained and interviews with former and senior police officials, The New York Times said the ­department had sought to enlist the help of immigrants such as a food cart vendor from Afghanistan and an Egyptian-born ­limousine driver, most of whom were arrested for minor infractions.

Detectives working for a unit known as the Citywide Debriefing Team conducted 220 such interviews in the first quarter of this year, the newspaper said, and many hundreds of interviews in other years.

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Police officials described the interviews as voluntary, but the paper said several Muslim immigrants reported feeling shaken by the encounters.

John Miller, the deputy commissioner in charge of the Intelligence Division, said the team emerged from an urgent need for counter-terrorism sources ."We were looking for people who could provide visibility into the world of terrorism," he was quoted as saying.