The NYPD officer caught on viral video fending off a band of subway vagrants without reaching for his gun has handled himself well under pressure before -- he's a U.S. Army veteran who's served in Iraq and Afghanistan, police said.
He also made headlines in the past for speaking out against racial profiling after he was detained at Kennedy Airport.
The mayor on Tuesday praised Officer Syed Ali's "extraordinary professionalism and bravery" during the wild melee viewed more than four million times on Twitter.
Ali's actions also earned him a citation from Councilman Chaim Deutsch, and the NYPD Muslim Officers Society, of which he's a member.
"We'd like to commend him for his use of restraint where he made sure that he utilized the minimum (force) necessary," said Capt. Adeel Rana, the society's president. "It might have something to do with his military training but the majority of it is him being calm under pressure situations."
Meanwhile, the police officers' union blasted the decision by the Manhattan District Attorney's office not to pursue charges against the five homeless men who attacked the brave cop.
"There's no telling how much damage these mopes would have done to that courageous police officer had he not been equipped to handle them. Had it gone the other way we might have had a seriously injured or dead police officer instead," said Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association.
"It's wrong that they were not charged for attacking him. The District Attorney's job is to prosecute crimes, not to act like a social advocate."
Ali, an Army reservist, has been deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan and saw combat during a 2008 deployment to Iraq.
Despite his service, he was detained for hours at JFK for extra screening in April 2017 when he returned home from Istanbul, then threatened with arrest when he asked how long he'd be held, he told the New York Times at the time.
"I feel like my rights were violated," Ali told the Times shortly after the incident. "Are you telling me that every guy with the last name Ali is a terrorist? Are you telling me every guy with brown skin coming in from overseas is a terrorist?"
Ali was assigned to a solo counter-terrorism post at the East Broadway F train stop in Lower Manhattan Sunday night when a woman approached him and said a group of homeless men were harassing her. He told them to leave and they "approached him aggressively," police sources said.
Cell phone video captured what happened next -- Ali used a baton and his feet to keep the men at bay as they came at him, one by one. One of the men lurched at him and fell onto the tracks, and the officer called MTA officials to cut power to the third rail, then radioed for help.
Police took five homeless men into custody -- Oseas Garcia, 32, Juan Munez, 27, Raul Ruiz, 29. Elisoe Alvarez Santos, 36 and Leobardo Alvarado, 31 -- at first processing them as intoxicated emotionally disturbed people.
After the fight, one of the men mugged for a camera from his hospital bed, belting out a tune, video obtained by the Daily News shows.
The golden-throated man warbles in what sounds like an attempt to sing a popular tune by Puerto Rican reggaeton artist Ozuna.
He's all smiles as someone off-camera tries to guide him through the lyrics.
All five returned to the station after their release and cops hit them with local law violations for laying on the subway platform.
Police sources say vagrants often flock to the end of that platform to drink and get high.
"The NYPD is upping its presence at this station and others to ensure officers have the support they need," de Blasio said in his tweet praising Ali.
This article is written by Thomas Tracy and John Annese from New York Daily News and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.