Islamic Center Backers Won't Rule Out Taking Funds from Saudi Arabia, Iran

The developers behind the Islamic center planned for a site near Ground Zero won't rule out accepting financing from the Mideast -- including from Saudi Arabia and Iran -- as they begin searching for $100 million needed to build the project.

The religious organization and the development company behind the center declined to say how much of the $100 million needed to build the facility has already been raised.

"We are in the planning stages," said Oz Sultan, spokesman for the center now called Park51. "We have just started the process of fundraising planning."

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Sultan said it would take three to six months to establish a plan on how to raise the needed capital. He said any fundraising campaign would begin domestically, but he would not comment on whether it would extend overseas or to foreign governments.

"We'll look at all available options within the United States to start. We're hoping to fund this predominately from domestic donors. That can be everything from institutions all the way down to personal [contributors,]" said Sultan.

When asked if they would then turn to foreign donors, Sultan replied, "I can't comment on that."

Pressed on whether the developers were willilng rule out accepting donations from the governments of Saudi Arabia or Iran, he repeated, "I can't comment on that."

The center, in the works for over a year, has become a nationwide controversy as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. Critics charge that having what they call a mosque so close what they consider hallowed ground is insensitive and an insult to the victims' families, especially since the attack was perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists were Saudi Arabian and funding from that country could further anger those already opposed to the mosque. Many mosques in the U.S. have been funded in part with Saudi money.

Iran has been designated a sponsor of terrorism by the U.S. government.

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Sultan declined to say how much, if anything, the developers have raised so far.

Through the Park51 Twitter account, Sultan said: "We will disclose funding of the project in compliance with state and federal law as well as vet investors with the [Department of] Treasury."

Sultan said the timeline for fundraising is typical for large scale building projects in New York City.

"You 'spec' the project and then go to the bank, bond offerings and private investors. When Donald Trump says he's building a $250 million building, it's the same general process," he said.

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, the cultural organization behind the mosque is currently on a federally funded State Department tour of the Middle East, visiting Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The imam is a Sufi Muslim, a mystical branch of Islam whose adherents have been attacked by Muslim extremists overseas.

Sultan said the groups behind Park51 had recently been in touch with New York Gov. David Paterson's office to discuss the governor's reported proposal to move the center to a parcel of land currently owned by the state. Earlier in the week, the group said they were unaware of any discussions with Paterson.

"There's been an initial contact and I know a conversation is ongoing," Sultan said, but would not comment on the details.

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