x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Riyadh denies plan to move Park 51

Saudi Arabia has denied it was negotiating to move a controversial planned Islamic centre farther away from the site of the September 11 attacks in downtown Manhattan.

NEW YORK // Saudi Arabia has denied it was negotiating to move a controversial planned Islamic centre farther away from the site of the September 11 attacks in downtown Manhattan.

The New York Post had reported that King Abdullah was considering moving the Park 51 centre to Manhattan's West Village after angry protests against the centre dominated headlines in the United States earlier this year.

But a statement from the Saudi embassy in Washington said the kingdom had "no involvement, either directly or indirectly, with Park 51, formerly known as Cordoba House, in New York City, nor is it involved - in any way - in talks that may be taking placeto relocate the proposed community centre," the Dow Jones news agency reported. "The Government of Saudi Arabia considers this issue a domestic American matter," the e-mailed statement said.

Dudley Gaffin, a New York lawyer, claimed King Abdullah was in talks with officials about moving the centre to St Vincent's medical centre, which closed earlier this year and has become a matter of intense wrangling among New York property agents.

Mr Gaffin did not return requests for comment from The National.

Earlier this year, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi imam behind the planned Islamic centre, said a decision on whether it would remain as planned in lower Manhattan would depend on what was "best for everybody".

The imam said while he was very sensitive to the concerns held by families of al Qa'eda's victims who perished in the World Trade Center about two blocks away, moving the proposed centre would embolden extremists.

The centre's construction is being led by Sharif el-Gamal, a developer, but the project, slated to cost around $100 million (Dh367 million), is beset by financial difficulties.

 

sdevi@thenational.ae