U.S. News

Imam: NY Muslim center aims to prevent terror attack

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York September 13, 2010. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The imam behind the controversial plan to build a Muslim culture center near the site of New York’s September 11 attack said on Sunday the project is meant to prevent a similar attack.

In an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” program, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said he feels duty bound to help protect non-Muslim Americans from such violence.

Rauf said building the center, which will include a prayer room, two blocks from the destroyed World Trade Center is “the right thing to do.”

“... America needs it and the Muslim world needs it,” he said.

“We have to wage peace.”

Critics say the center’s proximity to Ground Zero is insensitive, while supporters say politicians have wrongly commandeered the emotionally charged debate before U.S. congressional elections on November 2.

Asked if it was insensitive to build the center so close to Ground Zero, Rauf said: “We wanted to prevent another 9/11 ... We wanted a platform ... to strengthen the voice of the moderates.”

Saying that the “campaign for winning hearts and minds is an important part” of any military fight against radical extremists from his faith, Rauf said he was “ready willing and able to serve our country and serve our faith tradition.”

“If 9/11 happens there again, I want to be the first to die,” said Rauf, who was born in Kuwait and is an naturalized American citizen. “It’s my duty as an American Muslim to stand between you, the American non-Muslim, and the radicals who are trying to attack you.”

Writing by Chris Michaud; Editing by Bill Trott