The State Department will be footing the bill for Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial ground zero mosque, as he embarks on a tour of the Middle East.
Plans for the $100 million mosque have drawn strong criticism from 9/11 families, as well as prominent figures such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.
Rauf personally has become controversial because he refuses to acknowledge Hamas is a terrorist group and for his stated belief U.S. foreign policy partly was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The trip’s announcement Monday raises concerns Rauf will be taking advantage of taxpayer dollars to raise money for the divisive project. But the State Department says the publicly funded trip intends to foster “greater understanding” about Muslim communities in the United States.
“He is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” The New York Post quoted State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley as having said about the imam’s trip, which reportedly will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Qatar. “I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding around the world among Muslim-majority communities.”
Crowley denied Rauf would be using the trip for fundraising purposes despite reports in a London-based Arabic-language newspaper the imam plans to collect money from Muslim and Arab nations around the world. The trip likely would put Rauf into contact with many of the people he needs to raise money for the mosque.
“Does the State Department have any idea they are sending a guy to the Middle East who is going to be fundraising with the very same people he will be meeting with?” Debra Burlingame, a 9/11 family member, asked, according to the Post. “We know he has a fundraising association with Saudi Arabia.”
Rauf maintains close ties with the Saudis who have contributed money to underwrite programs run by the imam’s American Society for Muslim Advancement, the Post reports.
At the same time, however, the Post reports state regulators have said the sale of an adjacent Con Ed building needed to be complete the mosque might be subject to review despite assurances to the contrary.
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