Qur'an burning could be back on: pastor
The minister of a Florida church said he is now rethinking his earlier decision to call off plans to burn copies of the Qur'an.
Terry Jones had announced at a news conference in Gainesville, Fla., that he had decided to call off the event because the person behind the effort to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero had agreed to move its location.
But later Thursday night, Jones said that the imam he thought he made the deal with "clearly clearly lied to us" about moving the centre.
"Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision," Jones said. "So as of right now, we are not cancelling the event, but we are suspending it."
Jones did not say whether the Qur'an burning could still be held Saturday, but he said he expected Imam Muhammad Musri to keep his word and expected "the imam in New York to back up one of his own men."
Jones had met with Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, who has been acting as an intermediary between Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Rauf's plan to build an Islamic community centre in Lower Manhattan has ignited controversy and angered Jones and others.
Rauf, who is CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement and imam of a New York mosque, wants to build the $100-million US centre a few blocks from the former site of the Word Trade Centre destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the U.S.
Plans for the development have been approved by the city.
Musri had appeared alongside Jones Thursday as he made his announcement but later told reporters that Rauf had agreed to nothing more than a meeting with Musri and Jones in New York.
"I told the pastor that I personally believe the mosque should not be there, and I will do everything in my power to make sure it is moved," Musri said. "But there is not any offer from [Rauf] that it will be moved. All we have agreed to is a meeting, and I think we would all like to see a peaceful resolution."
N.Y. imam says he won't barter
Rauf also said he was surprised by the announcement and that he would not barter.
"We are, of course, now against any other group burning Qur'ans," Jones had said after his afternoon announcement. "We would right now ask no one to burn Qur'ans. We are absolutely strong on that. It is not the time to do it."
However, Jones said, Musri told him that officials would guarantee that the centre would be moved.
"I asked him three times, and I have witnesses," Jones said. "If it's not moved, then I think Islam is a very poor example of religion. I think that would be very pitiful. I do not expect that."
Musri thanked Jones and his church members "for making the decision today to defuse the situation and bring to a positive end what has become, the world over, a spectacle that no one would benefit from except extremists and terrorists" who would use it to recruit future radicals.
Jones's plans to burn Islam's holiest text had sparked an international outcry.
U.S. President Barack Obama, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, David Petraeus, and several Christian leaders had urged Jones to reconsider his plans to burn the Qur'an, which Muslims consider sacred.
They said his actions would endanger U.S. soldiers and provide a strong recruitment tool for Muslim extremists. Jones's protest also drew criticism from religious and political leaders from across the Muslim world.
Earlier Thursday, Obama condemned Jones's plans to burn the Qur'an, calling it "a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda." Speaking on ABC's Good Morning America, Obama called on Jones to "listen to those better angels" and reverse his plan, calling it a "stunt."
"If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans — that this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance," Obama said. "And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform.
Former Republican candidate for vice-president Sarah Palin said in a Facebook post that although people have the constitutional right to burn the Qur'an, doing so would be an "insensitive and an unnecessary provocation — much like building a mosque at Ground Zero."
It appears Jones was having internal problems because of his stance. His internet service provider has apparently revoked service to him. Jones said this is a violation of his freedom of speech and religion.
Moreover, about 15 members of his 50-strong congregation have decided to leave as a result of the controversy.
Jones is no stranger to scandal. In the past when he was affiliated with a church in Germany, there were some financial irregularities and he left.
Pressure on Jones grew as many religious groups denounced the planned burning.
The Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC) sent an urgent appeal Thursday to Jones, imploring him to reconsider his decision to burn the Muslim holy book.
"The only people who will relish the image of a burning Qur'an is Bin Laden and his boys. Certainly, Pastor Jones would not like to contribute to the glee of that mass murderer," MCC president Sohail Raza said in a statement.
Elsewhere, tension also grew around the world in response to Jones's plan.
One church in India received a bomb threat. The pastor of that church received a letter threatening to blow up churches in the area if Qur'ans are burned.
He immediately relayed the message to police and the pastor said the church had no plans to observe Jones's so-called International Burn a Qur'an Day, and he says that Christians in India are united in their mission to spread the message of universal brotherhood.
Protests in Pakistan were getting more radical. Hundreds of people marched down the street chanting "Death to America," and then set fire to a U.S. flag. Protesters say if Jones follows through with his plans there will be a reaction against the Christian church across the world and that a new war will begin between Muslims and Christians.
Tension was also starting to bubble over in the United States. A mosque under construction in Arizona was vandalized overnight. The attackers broke windows and threw paint.
With files from The Associated Press