Lazio Seeks Probe of Ground-Zero Mosque

Republican Rick Lazio, the party’s nominee for governor in New York, called on his Democratic opponent Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo to open an investigation into the funding sources for the Cordoba Mosque, planned for Lower Manhattan near the site of the September 11 terror attacks.

Lazio said that there were serious questions about the funding and the intent of the developers behind the mosque.

“We seek a clean accounting of all the funding sources for this mosque," Lazio said. “Where did the $5 million come from that were used to purchase the land? Where will the $95 million in addition come from to build the mosque? Who is behind these investments? What is there purpose? What is their goal? What is their intent?”

Lazio spoke at a press conference last week with Debra Burlingame, a co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America and the sister of hijacked American Airlines flight 77 pilot Charles Burlingame, and Tim Brown, a retired firefighter who responded to the World Trade Center on the day of the attacks,

Lazio sent a letter to Cuomo demanding that his office open an official investigation into the Cordoba Initiative, which is registered with the Attorney General’s office as a recognized charity.  In the letter, Lazio cites the funding issue along a press report that the Cordoba Initiative is tied to Perdana Global, which the letter says is “the single largest [source of funds] of the flotilla that tried to break the blockade of Gaza by Israeli defense forces.”

“I am writing on behalf of the people of New York who share my concerns for their personal security and safety with respect to the construction of the Cordoba Mosque in Lower Manhattan,” the letter says.
“Given that the Cordoba Initiative is a legally registered charitable organization with the New York Attorney General’s Office, my fellow New Yorkers and I are asking you to immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the previous items highlighted by the media with respect to the construction of this Mosque in Lower Manhattan. The people have the right to know if this ‘charity’ is using its resources in a legitimate, legal, and charitable way.”

Lazio’s questions elicited a response from Cuomo even before the letter was released.  Asked by reporters about Lazio’s demand at a Manhattan appearance, Cuomo said that he was aware of no evidence of criminal activity by the Cordoba Initiative and added that his office would receive any evidence of criminality. 

But when pressed on the subject of the mosque’s proposed location so close to the site where Islamic extremists carried out the worst terror attacks in American history, Cuomo said the issue was about “religious freedom” and seemed to question the motives of Lazio and opponents of the mosque, not the mosque’s developers.

“If there is a criminal case, then there is a criminal case. But if this is, ‘I don’t like this religion, and I don’t like this religion on this block,’ or ‘I don’t like this religion in this city,’ then I agree with Mayor Bloomberg. Then I agree with the community board that approved the mosque,” Cuomo said.

“What are we about, if not religious freedom? What is the country about, if not religious freedom? What is this state about, if not religious freedom? Well, religious freedom except, ‘I don’t like this religion.’ But then, there might be another government, and they won’t like Catholicism, or they won’t like Judaism, or they won’t like Christianity, then what?”

That characterization brought an outraged response from Lazio and Burlingame.

Lazio said that Cuomo “should be ashamed of himself,” and said the remarks put the attorney general, “even more outside the mainstream.”  Referring to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the mosque plans, Lazio said, “Andrew Cuomo stating that those who oppose a sympathizer of terrorism are somehow guilty of bigotry is outrageous.”

In an e-mail to HUMAN EVENTS, Burlingame echoed Lazio’s reaction, saying Cuomo’s remarks were “a disappointment.”

“What a disappointment that Andrew Cuomo’s response to these serious questions is to lecture us—people whose loved ones were killed in the name of Allah—about religious intolerance,” Burlingame said.  “Instead of gathering some facts, the attorney general’s knee-jerk response to us is to use political correctness as a means of intimidation. Any plan to bring shariah law to America, and that is what this imam has expressly said he wants to do, is entirely inconsistent with religious freedom… The majority of New Yorkers share our concerns about this imam’s plans for Ground Zero, his refusal to name his investors, and his disturbing remarks about 9/11 itself.”

Lazio has been trying to get Cuomo to stake public positions on various issues for months. Earlier in the campaign, he seized on the Obama Administration’s plan to hold a civilian trial for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammad in Lower Manhattan; demanding that Cuomo, as a prospective candidate and the chief law-enforcement officer in the state, declare whether he thought it was appropriate to hold the trial in New York. Cuomo remained silent.

Cuomo’s questioning of Lazio’s motives—while appearing to be unwilling to question the imam at the center of the controversy—is likely more than the Lazio hoped for.  Cuomo’s remarks give Lazio ammunition with which to extend the story, and should lead to more questions for Cuomo.  Lazio’s strategy of trying to draw out the famously elusive and guarded Cuomo has reaped its first reward.