MYFOXNY.COM - Fox 5 News reported Thursday that one of the financial backers of the Islamic mosque and cultural center project in Lower Manhattan once contributed to a terror group, although the investor says the contribution was made because he thought he was giving money to a harmless charity.
One of the key players in Sharif El-Gamal's Mosque near Ground Zero is Egyptian born businessman, Hisham Elzanaty. Fox 5 News has learned exclusively and confirmed with Mr. Elzanaty’s attorney that Elzanaty made a “significant investment” in the development of the mosque near Ground Zero.
Fox 5 has also uncovered Elzanaty has teamed up with El-Gamal on at least two real estate deals: the controversial mosque site and another deal involving a commercial property in the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
In the Chelsea deal, mortgage documents show Elzanaty played a major role signing off as the guarantor on El-Gamal's $39 million mortgage.
When Fox 5 News reporter Charles Leaf tracked down Elzanaty outside his Long Island home in Roslyn Heights last week Elzanaty avoided the camera and did not answer a single question about his business dealings with El-Gamal.
Fox 5 News has also learned that in 1999 Hisham Elzanaty sent money to an organization that would later be deemed by the U.S. government to be a terrorist group.
The organization was the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, also known as HLF. The now defunct group’s 1999 tax records show Elzanaty contributed more than $6,000 to HLF.
Two years later, in 2001, HLF was shut down by the federal government and designated as a global terrorist. After a mistrial in 2007, in 2008 five HLF leaders were convicted of providing material support to Hamas.
The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) is a non-profit research group that focuses on radical Islamic terrorist groups. The research group shared its information on HLF with Fox 5 News and IPT’s Managing Director, Ray Locker tells us HLF, “masked what their true purpose was, they funneled money to Hamas which used that money to conduct terrorist operations. In many cases they gave that money to the widows and children of so-called martyrs. ”
Federal investigators say HLF was set up as the largest Muslim charity in the United States based in Richardson, Texas, but from its inception the group existed to support Hamas.
Mr. Elzanaty's attorney tells Fox 5 News exclusively his client believed he was making contributions to an orphanage.
But IPT’s Ray Locker claims even back then TV and newspapers were reporting suspicions of the group’s ties to terror. “If you gave money (to HLF) in 1999 you probably had some inkling that HLF was giving money to Hamas and therefore to terrorist operations,” Locker says.
Mr. Elzanaty's contribution to HLF came in the same year his Egyptian parents, Abdou Elzanaty and Abed Raboh Fawkia Elzanaty, were killed in a plane crash. On October 31, 1999, Egyptair flight 990 left New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport bound for Cairo, but crashed in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nantucket Island killing 217 people. U.S. investigators concluded the flight’s pilot deliberately crashed the plane in a suicide, while Egyptian investigators disagreed, concluding the flight had mechanical problems.
Elzanaty’s attorney tells Fox 5 the tragic plane crash changed Mr. Elzanaty's life and brought him closer to Islam.