DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – A Saudi prince who has aided the imam spearheading a proposed Islamic center near New York's ground zero is appealing for another site not associated with the "wound" of the Sept. 11 attacks, a report said Thursday.
In interview excerpts published by the Dubai-based Arabian Business magazine, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal was quoted as saying that moving the planned mosque, health club and cultural center would respect the memory of those killed in the 2001 attacks and allow American Muslims to choose a more suitable location.
The comments are reportedly the prince's first public views on the dispute, which has stirred street protests and fiery debates between religious and political leaders over America's freedom of worship versus the lingering anger over the 9/11 attacks.
Prince Alwaleed's Kingdom Foundation has contributed to the group run by New York's Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, but said he has given no funds to the planned center.
Prince Alwaleed urged the backers of the proposed Islamic center not to "agitate the wound by saying, 'We need to put the mosque next to the 9/11 site.'"
"Those people behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York," the prince was quoted as saying by the magazine, which said the full interview will be published Sunday. "The wound is still there. Just because the wound is healing you can't say, 'Let's just go back to where we were pre-9/11.'"
Prince Alwaleed, who chairs a Saudi investment company that has major stakes in international giants News Corp. and Citigroup, also said Muslims in New York should consider a more "dignified" location than the proposed site in lower Manhattan.
"It can't be next to a bar or a strip club, or in a neighborhood that is not really refined and good. The impression I have is that this mosque is just being inserted and squeezed over there," he said.
The Manhattan real estate developer who controls the site of the planned center and is leading the effort to build it declined to comment.
Rauf said in a written statement that the project would go forward as planned.
"While we respect the points of view of other interested observers, we plan to build the community center in this location because we have been part of Lower Manhattan for decades and we want to better serve the needs of our neighbors of all faith traditions," he said.
As envisioned, the center would indeed sit next to a tavern, about 2 1/2 blocks from the reconstructed World Trade Center. Other landmarks within a few blocks include City Hall, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Woolworth Building, once the nation's tallest.