Who built Nicaragua's mosque?

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Marco Werman gets details from reporter Steve Stecklow on a new mosque recently built in Nicaragua. There are conflicting reports on how it was funded; including rumors has that it was built with Iranian money.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. There are only about three hundred Muslims in all of Nicaragua so when a new mosque was built in the capital, Managua, tongues started to wag. The main question on people's minds was who paid for it? The main answer seemed to be the government of Iran but that's just what Nicaraguans suspected. Reporter Steve Steckler did a little digging. His story on the new mosque and the rumors surrounding it appears on the front page of today's Wall Street Journal. So Steve, take us back to the start of this story. When did this mosque appear because it's not like Managuans just turned around one day and boom, where did that dome and minaret come from?

STEVE STECKLER: Well actually it kind of was like that. Most people didn't even notice that a mosque was being built, even though it actually had been being built for close to a year but around August of this year, suddenly the dome appeared and a minaret appeared and it just seemed to spring up almost overnight.

WERMAN: What is the neighborhood like where this mosque is located in Managua?

STECKLER: It's a fairly well to do, at least by Managuan standards, residential neighborhood with nice homes. There's a very popular video store around the corner from the mosque; it's across the street from a hair salon. It's definitely in one of Managua's nicer neighborhoods.

WERMAN: And then these rumors of Iranian involvement behind the construction of the mosque got started. Why was this a natural assumption for Nicaraguan's to make?

STECKLER: Well, it's not surprising given the closeness between Daniel Ortega, the president of Nicaragua and Mahmoud Ahmadinajad, the president of Iran. They both have exchanged state visits and the Iranian government in '07 and '08 promised to invest close to a billion dollars in Nicaragua. The fact is, most of those promises haven't materialized at all but because all these different projects were announced, including a new city and a deep water port on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, which again hasn't happened, it was sort of an assumption that you know, hey wait, there's this new mosque. I wonder if the Iranians were behind it. There also are rumors at this time that a giant new Iranian embassy was going to be built in Managua and it's like Hilary Clinton had made some statements suggesting that earlier this year but that hasn't happened either and appears to just really be a myth.

WERMAN: So there are all these reasons why it was actually unlikely that it was Iran that built this mosque. In the end, Iran had no money involved in this mosque, is that what you found out?

STECKLER: Well, the local Islamic community, which has something called the Nicaraguan Islamic Cultural Association, the officials there told me that Iran paid for nothing, that the only thing they actually had promised was to provide a prayer rug for the new prayer hall at the mosque, but they had failed to deliver that and that the mosque itself was paid for by this Pakistani businessman in Honduras and was pointed out to me that it was kind of preposterous to assume that the Iranians would have paid for the whole mosque since virtually every Muslim in Nicaragua, all three hundred or so of them are Suni's while the Iranians are Shiites.

WERMAN: Maybe you can tell us what Nicaraguans feel about Iran. I mean there's this natural alliance between President Ortega and Ahmadinajad, but do Nicaraguans want relationships with Ahmadinajad's Iran?

STECKLER: It's really hard to say. I mean one thing that I found in interviewing people was how virtually little the Nicaraguan's know about Iran or the Muslim faith. I mean people, when I asked them who did they think was praying at the new mosque, one person who was working across the street, a barber, told me that it was the Taliban. The Nicaraguan's frequently refer to all Middle Easterners or all Muslims as Turks so even though the two governments have signed agreements and things like that, the local Nicaraguans I think are kind of puzzled by this whole thing.

WERMAN: Well Steve, good talking with you. Thanks a lot.

STECKLER: My pleasure, Marco.

WERMAN: Steve Steckler is an investigative journalist for the Wall Street Journal.