- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 7, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) | Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio on Tuesday called on his Democratic rival, Andrew Cuomo, to investigate the development of a $100 million mosque being planned near ground zero.

The mosque, just a block away from the Sept. 11 terror attack site, has been a source of controversy in the community even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials support its construction and have said that it poses no security concerns. Some survivors and family members of the 9/11 victims say building a mosque there disrespects the memory of those who died at the hands of Islamic terrorists.

The mosque is a project of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative, which promotes cross-cultural understanding between Islam and the West. The organizations purchased the building in 2009 and plan to break ground later this year.

At a news conference, Mr. Lazio said he was concerned that not enough is known about the project’s funding sources and raised questions about its director, Imam Faisel Abdul Rauf. He noted that Mr. Rauf had recently refused to call the radical Palestinian group Hamas a terrorist organization, and had said in a “60 Minutes” interview televised shortly after 9/11 that “United States policies were an accessory to the crime that happened.”

Mr. Lazio said that Mr. Cuomo, as attorney general, has the authority to investigate the project because Mr. Cuomo’s office has jurisdiction over nonprofit organizations in New York.

“We’re asking the attorney general to exert his authority to investigate the sources of these donations … to determine whether it is compliant, and whether the Cordoba Initiative … is in fact a legitimate charity. And in fact, whether the sources of income are legitimate or if they pose a security risk to the people of New York and the people of America,” Mr. Lazio said.

Mr. Cuomo has said he supports the mosque’s construction.

“Anyone who has evidence of wrongdoing should send it to us and we will review it,” Richard Bamberger, Mr. Cuomo’s spokesman in the attorney general’s office, said in a statement.

Mr. Lazio refused to say whether he opposes the construction of any mosque so close to the Sept. 11 terror attack site.

“This is not a matter of religion, let’s make that really clear,” he said. “This is a question of motivation, of transparency, of an imam who has clearly made some comments that are inflammatory.”

A call to Mr. Rauf was not returned.

Deborah Burlingame, a 9/11 activist and the sister of one of the pilots killed in the attacks who joined Mr. Lazio for at the news conference, went further, saying there was a “propaganda element” to building a mosque at ground zero.

“There are interests in creating an Islamic presence at the site of the worst atrocity in the history of the Republic. It’s very important to the people who want to hurt this country,” Miss Burlingame said.

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