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Who's paying for the ground zero Islamic center?

By Rick Lazio, Special to CNN
  • Rick Lazio says the Imam behind the planned Islamic Center refused to call Hamas terrorist
  • Lazio: Other associations also make him wary of center's funding sources
  • He says New Yorkers have a right to know where money is coming from to feel safe
  • Lazio: The state attorney general should request Cordoba Initiative open its books

Editor's note: Former Rep. Rick Lazio served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2001, representing the 2nd Congressional District. He is the Republican nominee for governor of New York running against Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who is the New York state attorney general.

(CNN) -- In June, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the proposed ground zero mosque, was asked on live radio if he believed Hamas is a terrorist organization.

This isn't a difficult question: Hamas employs suicide bombers and fires incendiary rockets at civilian targets within Israel. It calls for the destruction of the Jewish state followed by the establishment of a potentially fundamentalist and repressive regime.

Governments all over the world, including the United States and the European Union, rightfully consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization that willfully and indiscriminately targets innocent civilians. Yet Imam Rauf, after being asked this simple, straightforward question, refused to state whether or not he believed Hamas to be a terrorist organization. He said: "I will not allow anybody to put me in a position where I am seen by any party in the world as an adversary or as an enemy."

Now Imam Rauf wants to build and lead a $100 million, 13-story community center and mosque. It would be constructed on property currently occupied by a historic 150-year-old building that was seriously damaged by the landing gear of one of the hijacked jetliners that flew into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and he wants to unveil it on September 11, 2011.

Video: Mosque planned near Ground Zero
Video: Mosque ad stirs emotions

I oppose the center and mosque's construction because I believe there should be an investigation into the sources of its funding. The main group behind its construction, The Cordoba Initiative, which is headed by the Imam, is a registered charity in New York state. It is the responsibility of New York's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to ensure the mosque's funding is coming from reputable sources.

The radio show comments were not the first time Imam Rauf has said troubling things or been associated with troubling activities. On CBS' "60 Minutes," less than a month after the attacks, he said American policies were an "accessory" to the crime of 9/11. "In fact," he added, "in the most direct sense, Osama bin Laden is made in the USA."

Imam Rauf is also listed on the website of the Perdana Global Peace Organization as a "role player and contributor." This group was a financial backer of the Gaza flotilla, which attempted in May to break the Israeli's blockade of Gaza.

The Cordoba Initiative has reported less than $20,000 in assets. Where the $100 million for his project would come from is anybody's guess. Furthermore, it's fair to ask why, exactly, Imam Rauf has insisted on building the mosque so close to ground zero, and why he wants to unveil it on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. This not an issue of religious freedom, but rather, a question of safety and security.

New Yorkers deserve to be safe and to feel safe, and we have a right to know who's footing the bill for Imam Rauf's project. Are foreign governments or other organizations involved? And why is there such secrecy about the source of the money?

The Cordoba Initiative is legally required to file disclosure reports with the office of the attorney general, and it could easily be asked under state law to open its books for the office if Cuomo would simply make that request.

We need to know who is paying for the center and mosque. We need to know what their motives are, and we need to know if the Imam is promising any potential benefactors anything in return for their support.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Rick Lazio.