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Mosque near Ground Zero 9/11 funding requests spark new controversy

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The developers of the mosque near Ground Zero want to tap federal funding set aside to help lower Manhattan recover after 9/11, further enraging opponents who found the request incomprehensible.

“Do you really think we are going to allow you to steal $5 million in cash from the 9/11 fund?” tweeted one protester. “This is going to get ugly,” tweeted another. “A third called it a “spit in the face.”

Park51 officials Monday said they’ve requested several grants to go toward non-religious “short-term programming and site construction costs,” including “Arabic Language classes, a variety of consultation and referral services, a homeless veterans rehabilitation program, and a series of art exhibitions.”

The request is the latest development in a saga that has became a wedge issue for politicians, pundits and New Yorkers. It evoked an emotional response Monday from families of 9/11 victims who believe the proposed Islamic community center and mosque, a $100 million project, is too close to the World Trade Center site where their loved were killed.

“It was always a question about who’s going to fund this,” said Jimmy Boyle, aghast that the money could come from public coffers. Boyle, whose firefighter son Michael died at 37 in the attacks, called the mosque “an affront to the families.”

Park51 reportedly wants $5 million in funds controlled by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

It is among 265 organizations to apply for a pot of $17 million, said Julie Menin, a member of the LMDC board. The organizations include lower Manhattan schools, museums and health groups, Menin said.

“The organizations are obviously going to be thoroughly vetted. Our job is to wade through the applications and determine which are meritorious,” said Menin, also chairwoman of Community Board 1. The applicants will be judged on potential to create jobs and revitalize the community, she said.

LMDC would not comment specifically on Park51, but New Yorkers said the questions of grants cloud the bigger picture of whether the mosque should be there in the first place.

“If they’re entitled to the grant [legally], let them apply for it. Would you be concerned if it was a synagogue?” asked Lenny Crisci, a former Finest who lost his firefighter brother John on 9/11.

“We have freedom of religion here, but you also need to have a little consideration for the people you’re living next to,” said Crisci, 62. “It’s still an open wound.”

Heidi Lee contributed to this story.

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