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Lawmaker critical of memorial shape

Contends crescent could be seen as honoring hijackers

WASHINGTON -- A Colorado congressman is asking the Interior Department to reconsider the crescent-shaped design of the memorial to those aboard a plane hijacked on Sept. 11, 2001, because some may think it honors the terrorists.

Representative Tom Tancredo, a Republican, says the design, called ''Crescent of Embrace," could invite ''controversy and criticism." In a letter sent yesterday to Fran Mainella, National Park Service director, Tancredo said many have questioned the shape ''because of the crescent's prominent use as a symbol in Islam -- and the fact that the hijackers were radical Islamists."

Flight 93 crashed into a field in southwestern Pennsylvania near Shanksville as passengers tried to take control of the plane. Forty passengers and crew members died.

The memorial design was approved last week by the Flight 93 Advisory Commission. It must still gain the approval of the director of the National Park Service and the secretary of the Interior.

The Park Service and family members of crash victims said the memorial's shape -- a circle broken by the flight pattern of the plane -- simply follows the topography of the crash site.

The memorial consists of a chapel with 40 metallic wind chimes, one for each of the victims. It is designed to spread across 2,000 acres and would include trails and a roadway to a visitor center and the actual crash site. At the site would be a crescent-shaped cluster of maple trees and a white marble wall inscribed with the victims' names.

Regardless of whether ''the invocation of a Muslim symbol" was intentional, ''it seems that such a symbol is unsuitable for paying appropriate tribute to the heroes of Flight 93 or the ensuing American struggle against radical Islam," Tancredo wrote.

Earlier this summer, Tancredo angered Muslims and others by suggesting on a Florida radio program that the United States could ''take out" Muslim holy sites if Islamic terrorists attacked the United States with nuclear bombs.

Joanne Hanley, superintendent of the Flight 93 National Memorial, said the design team led by Paul Murdoch Architects followed what the memorial mission statement requested: It honors the plane's passengers and crew and touches very lightly on the land.

''Crescent of Embrace" is the name of the design, not the memorial, and can be changed, she said.

''The name is irrelevant, really," she said. ''There's a lot of misinformation out there and conjecture and hidden meaning that just isn't there." Architect Paul Murdoch was not immediately available for comment yesterday.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called Tancredo's comments ''a cynical political ploy designed to gain national attention," and urged President Bush and other Republican leaders to repudiate them. The Muslim civil liberties group said the crescent has no religious significance in Islam, but is commonly associated with the faith.

Tancredo ''apparently believes he can only gain attention on the national political stage by fabricating a false controversy based on bizarre Internet conspiracy theories," said executive director Nihad Awad. White House spokesman Allen Abney declined to comment.

Gordon Felt, whose brother, Edward, died in the crash, invited Tancredo to contact the family members and learn more about the design. ''We feel the jury that selected the final design did a good job," he said. ''I cannot even fathom a family member on the jury thinking that they were trying to memorialize the people who murdered our family members."

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