June 5, 2010
The imam behind a proposed mosque near Ground Zero is a prominent member of a group that helped sponsor the pro-Palestinian activists who clashed violently with Israeli commandos at sea this week.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a key figure in Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, according to its Website.
Perdana is the single biggest donor ($366,000) so far to the Free Gaza Movement, a key organizer of the six-ship flotilla that tried to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip Monday.
Nine passengers aboard the largest ship died in clashes with Israeli commandos, and a new confrontation loomed today, when another Free Gaza Movement ship was due to reach Gaza waters in defiance of Israel.
Efforts to reach Imam Abdul Rauf yesterday for comment were unsuccessful.
Deborah Burlingame, the sister of the American Airlines pilot whose hijacked plane struck the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, said the indirect ties of the imam to the protesters who confronted Israeli forces Monday were not surprising.
"I think it goes to show he is not the man he represents himself to be. We have two Imam Raufs," she said.
"We have the anti-Israel, anti-democratic imam, and we have the smiling, soft-spoken moderate Muslim who says 'Why can't we all get along?' "
The Free Gaza Movement is a charity that has made nine seaborne aid missions in the past two years to break the Israeli blockade.
In the latest effort, the group's ship, the MV Rachel Corrie, which sails under an Irish flag, had made it about 35 miles off the Gaza coast last night before it was intercepted.
Israeli ships were shadowing the vessel, but it had not been boarded. Earlier yesterday, the Irish government said it had reached an accord with Israel to avoid another showdown, but the activists aboard rejected the deal.
Irish diplomats said that under the agreement, the ship would have docked at the Israeli port of Ashdod for inspection of its cargo under the supervision of UN officials.
Israel agreed to transfer all the content, except weapons and war materials, to Gaza, accompanied by two Free Gaza members, according to the agreement. But the activists said they would only allow a security check at sea.
"We will never stop at Ashdod," said Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Greta Berlin.