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Koran bonfire pastor flies into NY for mosque talks

The pastor who planned an International Burn-a-Koran Day arrived in New York today to challenge plans for a controversial Islamic centre close to Ground Zero, as the world marked the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Pastor Terry Jones went to New York in a bid to hold talks with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is overseeing plans for the mosque.

Amid the furore over Mr Jones' book-burning threats, US President Barack Obama said today's anniversary should be a day not only to mourn the 9/11 victims but to show that Americans "are not at war against Islam".

"We're at war against terrorist organisations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts," he said.

Last night Mr Jones, leader of the 50-member of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, said he had "a challenge to give to the imam in New York".

Mr Jones initially called off the bonfire, planned for today, on Thursday night, saying he had been promised the centre's location would be changed, but then admitted he was reconsidering after it emerged no such commitment was made by the imam.



Stunt

He then told the CBS breakfast television programme The Early Show that the stunt was cancelled and he would fly to New York with the hope of meeting the imam.

Victims of the atrocity were also being remembered in Grosvenor Square, London, today, where floral tributes were to be laid on behalf of the UK and US governments.

Memorial services were due to take place at the crash sites today and the remembrance event at Ground Zero will be followed by rallies for and against the Islamic centre plans.

After angry protests against the planned Koran burning, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Parker, deputy commander of International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) troops in Afghanistan,said: "These sorts of incidents outside Afghanistan are unhelpful to us."

Thousands of Muslims gathered at one of western Europe's largest mosques yesterday to condemn the pastor.

Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, world head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, addressed millions of people from a live telecast from the Baitul Futuh Mosque, in Morden, south west London.

He said Mr Jones's plans spread "hatred" around the world. "Religious extremism, be it Christian extremism, Muslim extremism, or any other kind is never a true reflection of the religion," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague was among those who condemned Mr Jones's plans to burn copies of the Koran as "selfish and provocative in the extreme".



Tolerance

The White House, the Vatican, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus and former British prime minister Tony Blair all urged Mr Jones to call off his protest.

Mr Obama appealed for religious tolerance, reminding Americans that the "overwhelming majority" of Muslims around the world are peace-loving people.

He earlier described the pastor's plans as a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qa'ida".


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