The Obama administration has denounced a plan by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Qur'an on Sept. 11, adding to criticism from the U.S. State Department and the top NATO commander in Afghanistan.
The White House said Tuesday that Terry Jones's threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops abroad, echoing similar comments by the State Department and by Gen. David Petraeus.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs noted that Petraeus had already warned that images of a burning Qur'an would be used by extremists to incite violence in Muslim countries.
"Any time activity like that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration," Gibbs told reporters.
At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley took a tougher line, saying the administration hoped Americans would stand up and reject the church's plan to burn copies of the Qur'an to mark the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He called the plan "un-American" and "inconsistent" with American values.
Safety of troops 'in jeopardy'
Earlier in the day, Jones, of Gainesville's Dove World Outreach Center, said he considered Petraeus's concerns "very, very serious" but was still "weighing the situation."
"We are definitely weighing the situation," Jones said. "We are weighing the thing that we are about to do, what it could possibly cause, what is our actual message, what are we trying to get across. It's very, very important that America wakes up."
In an email to The Associated Press, Petraeus said "images of the burning of a Qur'an would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence.
"I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible [Qur'an] burning. Even the rumour that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday. Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has also condemned the church's plans.
Canada's Foreign Ministry also put out a statement strongly condemning the plan.
"It is an insult to the Muslim world. It also puts the lives of Canadians in Afghanistan at risk. The burning of the Qu'ran will also give our enemies material for propaganda against allied forces in Afghanistan," the statement said. "To put this in context, Canada is not fighting against Islamic beliefs, we are fighting against the Taliban."
Protests erupt in Kabul, Indonesia
On Monday, hundreds of Afghans demonstrated outside a mosque in Kabul. They burned U.S. flags and an effigy of Jones. The protesters chanted "Death to America," and they briefly threw stones at a passing U.S. military convoy until rally organizers told them to cease.
Demonstrations have also taken place in several cities in Indonesia.
Fifteen people died in riots in Afghanistan in 2005, after Newsweek magazine reported that interrogators at the U.S. detention centre in Guantanamo Bay allegedly flushed a copy of the Qur'an down the toilet in order to provoke inmates to talk. The magazine later retracted its story.
In an article carried Tuesday, the Vatican's newspaper said Christians around the world were protesting the plan to burn the Qur'an.
The headline on the story in L'Osservatore Romano read: "No one burns the Qur'an."
In the article, Archbishop Lawrence John Saldanha of Lahore, Pakistan, described the plan to burn the book as "contrary to the respect owed all religions and against our doctrine and faith."