Ground Zero 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
NEW YORK — One of the investors in a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York City is a Long Island medical clinic owner whose expressions of sympathy for Palestinians included a donation to a charity later shut down for links to Hamas.
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The developer leading the project confirmed Friday that Hisham Elzanaty, 51, is among the members of a real estate partnership that paid $4.8 million last year for the vacant clothing store that is to be torn down and replaced by a cultural center and mosque.
The partnership's general manager, Sharif El-Gamal, confirmed Elzanaty's role in response to a media report about his reputed involvement.
"All of these investors are committed, as I am, not to receive funding
from any organization that supports terrorism or is hostile to America,"
El-Gamal said in a statement.
El-Gamal has so-far declined to reveal the names of his other financial
backers, but has said the eight-member group is diverse and includes
Jews and Christians.
Those involved with the Islamic Center proposal have come under intense
scrutiny from groups opposed to the project, and critics point to a
donation Elzanaty made to the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and
Development a decade ago as evidence that its backers secretly harbor
Tax records show that Elzanaty gave $6,050 to the foundation in 1999. At
the time, it was the largest Islamic charity in the US. It raised
millions of dollars from Americans in the 1990s, telling donors the
money would fund schools, orphanages and social welfare programs.
Two years after Elzanaty made the donation, the US government froze the
foundation's assets and accused it of acting as a fundraiser for Hamas,
which was labeled a terrorist organization by President Clinton in 1995.
The foundation and some of its leaders were indicted in 2004 on charges
of supporting Hamas. Five were ultimately convicted.
Elzanaty's lawyer told a WNYW reporter in a report broadcast Thursday
night that his client had no knowledge of the group's involvement with
Hamas when he donated the money, and had intended the cash to go to an
Many other donors to the foundation gave thinking their donations would
fund humanitarian programs.
Other people and companies who donated money, equipment or services to
the foundation the year Elzanaty gave included NBA star Hakeem Olajuwon,
the Microsoft Corp., and a medical equipment company owned by General
Electric, according to tax records.
Elzanaty, whose mother and father died on a flight from New York to
Cairo that went down in the Atlantic in 1999, has made no secret of his
past philanthropy involving the Palestinians. In a 2002 interview with
, he spoke of a hesitation to donate to Middle Eastern charities
because of concerns that it could unwittingly land him in a terror
"When you see people surrounded by tanks and F-16s, you ask how can we
help?" he told the paper. "But you don't want years later to have a
knock on the door and someone asking why did you donate money?"