- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 19, 2010

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in an effort to quiet criticism of Muslims in the U.S., is quietly looking into moving the ground zero mosque to a less controversial Manhattan location, according to news reports Sunday.

New York City attorney Dudley Gaffin has contacted officials about the Saudi royal family’s interest in moving the mosque from its site, two blocks from the former World Trade Center and within the damage zone on Sept. 11, 2001, to the shuttered St. Vincent’s hospital campus in the West Village, the New York Post and other news organizations reported Sunday.

According to Mr. Gaffin, the king wants to save the hospital, which filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, and provide an alternative location for the ground zero mosque, which has been the subject of protests for months.

The mosque, part of a $140 million project planned for a site near the destroyed World Trade Center, has been called insensitive by critics, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

But the project has drawn support from other religious leaders and from city officials, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

The 87-year-old Abdullah has said previously he would not get involved with the ground zero mosque, but the project’s biggest proponents, developer Sharif El-Gamal and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, are actively seeking funding for the project.

The Post reported that the Saudis see funding and moving the mosque project as a way to address concerns and highlight Muslim philanthropy.

The developers of Park51, the proposed Muslim community center and mosque, this month applied for $5 million in grants from a federal fund set up to aid redevelopment of the Sept. 11 attack area.

Mr. El-Gamal has said fundraising for the project is in the initial phases and is on schedule and expects construction to begin within three years, but the developer has been fighting off lawsuits for nonpayment of debt.

Pamela Geller, a blogger who has emerged as one of the leaders of the groups protesting the proposed Muslim mosque and community center, told The Washington Times that opposition to the project has not died down.

“The very idea that they would apply for $5 million from 9/11 funds is really outrageous,” she said.

If the project is completed at the Lower Manhattan site, two blocks from ground zero, the mosque will represent a victory for the terrorists, she said.

“They will have stolen something sacred from the American people. Whenever someone mentions ‘ground zero,’ it will mean the mosque, not the site where thousands of innocent people lost their lives,” she said.

“If the mosque is about healing, if that is true, we implore the imam to move it,” she said. “This issue is not going to go away.”

Mr. Rauf, who has been the target of some of the harshest criticism, announced last week a nationwide speaking tour on behalf of the project.

“We must retake the discourse among religions and cultures from the hands of the extremists around the world who benefit from hatred and violence,” the imam said.

The imam feels that “he is in a position where his voice is being heard,” said spokesman Gene Grabowski, adding that Mr. Rauf has been invited to speak on several college campuses, including Harvard and Yale universities.

The imam announced a new initiative, the Cordoba Movement, that would promote not only the ground zero mosque project but the construction of Muslim and interfaith community centers in other American cities and around the world.