Gov. David Paterson sought this morning to clarify comments he made last week trying to distinguish the Muslims behind the controversial Park51 project and the fundamentalists who attacked the Twin Towers, which only served to further complicate the situation and infuriate religious leaders.

While stressing that he didn’t think he had anything to apologize for, Paterson said he understood his remarks might have been mistaken amid such an “incendiary” debate, so he “wrote them a letter just to clarify.”

He didn’t say who “them” is, but it sounded like he meant the people behind the mosque/Islamic center. I’ve asked for a copy of the letter from Paterson’s press office, but have yet to hear back.

Here’s what Paterson said last week:

This group who has put this mosque together, they are known as the Sufi Muslims. This is not like the Shiites. They’re almost like a hybrid, almost Westernized. They are not really what I would classify in the sort of mainland (sic] Muslim practice.”

The governor said today that there are “different interpretations of Islam,” adding: “I was pointing out that this one varied from a great degree from a lot of the rest.”

“I was pointing it out simply to allow all of the freethinking people of this country to recognize that this was a unique study, one that had existed in that area for a long period of time, and one that was dedicating itself to the spiritual enhancement of people,” the governor said.

“…I thought that was one thing that was very unique about their services…is that they have nondenominational prayer, and I thought that was very interesting.”

The governor was asked whether he agrees with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s claim that the opposition to the Park51 project is being led by very small, vociferous voices.”

Paterson responded very carefully, saying “what makes this issue so complicated is that there are a variety of criticisms…some are absolutely bigoted. There’s no doubt about that.”

He went on to say that some criticism is politically motivated, while other opponents are merely trying to “promote themselves” and still others have a legitimate concern about Ground Zero and the sensitivity of the site and its environs.