9/11 Koran burning 'suspended but not cancelled'
A US pastor has said he may press ahead with plans to burns copies of the Koran on September 11 – just hours after announcing that the stunt had been cancelled.
Pastor Terry Jones, from the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, last night said that he had abandoned the event after receiving assurance that the planned Islamic centre and mosque near Ground Zero, the site of the attacks, in New York, would be relocated.
His announcement followed worldwide condemnation and warnings of a deadly Islamic backlash.
But Mr Jones later indicated that the burning may go ahead as planned, after the Muslim group behind the New York mosque said they had not agreed to any deal.
The pastor said: "Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision. So as of right now, we are not cancelling the event, but we are suspending it."
Mr Jones claimed he was "lied to" after Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, and the leader of the New York mosque said that no agreement had been struck.
Mr Musri said there was only an agreement for him and Mr Jones to travel to New York tomorrow to meet the imam overseeing plans to build the mosque.
Earlier, Mr Jones had been telephoned by Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, who asked him to reconsider his plans to burn Korans on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, because it could have endangered the lives of American troops.
Mr Jones had said he would reconsider his plans if he received a call from the White House or the Pentagon.
In his initial statement, the pastor said he had received assurances that the mosque planned near the Ground Zero site would be built elsewhere.
“I have his word that he will move the mosque,” Mr Jones said, referring to Imam Musri.
“We are now against any other group burning Korans. We would right now ask no one to burn Korans. We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it,” he said. But Imam Musri played down the claims, saying: “We do not have a commitment as of now to move [the Ground Zero mosque]. We have a commitment to meet.”
Mr Jones’ comments were contradicted altogether when Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the controversial mosque, issued a statement saying there had been no negotiations of the sort.
Mr Jones, who said he was close to tears, called the supposed agreement a “sign from God”. He said he had “no regrets” about deciding to burn the Korans but was glad the situation had been resolved.
The pastor later said he would be “very, very disappointed” if the mosque was not moved, insisting that Imam Musri had told him four times that the New York leaders promised to move it.
Imam Musri said: “We are committed to resolving the situation here [in Florida] and there [in New York]. I want to thank Pastor Jones for his courage and willingness to take into consideration the safety of our troops across the world and the safety of all Americans travelling and doing business abroad.” The planned book burning has provoked criticism from both the US government and the international community.
President Barack Obama had warned that the plans served as a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”, and were “completely contrary to our values”. Burning the Koran could provoke a wave of terrorist attacks on the West.
In a televised interview, Mr Obama said: “This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda. As a very practical matter, as commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan.”
Interpol said the burning would probably provoke terrorist attacks. Ronald Noble, the global police agency’s secretary-general, said: “Although there are currently no specific details as to what form of terror attacks would follow, what is clear is – if the Koran burning goes ahead – there will be tragic consequences.”
A confidential FBI report said that police should be prepared for revenge attacks in the United States. Earlier yesterday, the State Department warned any Americans travelling overseas to be prepared for anti-US demonstrations.
World leaders had encouraged Mr Obama to intervene. Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, condemned the plan as “despicable”. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the president of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said it would damage attempts to reconcile Muslims and the West.
Protesters in Pakistan, burned the Stars and Stripes, chanted “Down with America” and marched with banners carrying English language slogans such as “If Koran is burned, it would be beginning of destruction of America”.
Protesters also marched in Afghanistan’s Kapisa province. Nouri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, said the burning “might be taken as a pretext by the extremists to carry out more killings”.