Backer of NYC mosque gave to fund later tied to Hamas
NEW YORK — One of the investors in a proposed Islamic center near ground zero 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.
The developer leading the project confirmed yesterday 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.
Reached by telephone, Elzanaty declined to comment yesterday, but said he may have something to say later.
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 extremist views.
Tax records show that Elzanaty gave $6,050 to the foundation in 1999. At the time, it was the largest Islamic charity in the United States. 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 fund-raiser for Hamas, which was labeled a terrorist organization by President Clinton.
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 reporter for WNYW TV 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 orphanage.