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The imam behind a plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero is set to depart on a multi-country jaunt to the Middle East funded by the State Department -- raising concerns that taxpayers may be helping him with the controversial project's $100 million fund-raising goal.
Feisal Abdul Rauf is taking the publicly funded trip to foster "greater understanding" about Islam and Muslim communities in the United States, the State Department confirmed yesterday.
"He is a distinguished Muslim cleric," said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, when asked about the journey, reportedly to include stops in Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar.
"I think we are in the process of arranging for him to travel as part of this program, and it is to foster a greater understanding about the region around the world among Muslim-majority communities," he added.