NEW YORK — Senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar said Sunday that Muslims "have to build" a mosque near ground zero.

Zahar said Muslims "have to build everywhere" so that followers can pray, just like Christians and Jews build their places of worship.

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Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, spoke on "Aaron Klein Investigative Radio" on WABC-AM.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer says Al-Zahar's comments did not carry any weight because Hamas is a terrorist organization. Schumer has not taken a stand on the mosque.

Rep. Peter King, who opposes the mosque, says he won't respond to Hamas.

The mosque is a project of the Cordoba Initiative, an advocacy group that promotes improved relations between Islam and the West. It didn't respond to Al-Zahar's comments.

The Hamas official's comments came after US President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed allowing the building of the mosque and said the country's founding principles demanded no less, even as 70 percent of US citizens opposed the mosque's construction in a recent poll.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country," Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York City and Americans.

While his pronouncement concerning the mosque might find favor in the Muslim world, Obama's stance runs counter to the opinions of the majority of Americans, according to polls. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released this week found that nearly 70 percent of Americans opposed the mosque plan while just 29 percent approved. A number of Democratic politicians have shied away from the controversy.

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