A U.S. pastor says he is reconsidering plans to burn Qurans on Saturday, amid concerns the event could spark violence by Islamic extremists around the world. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and religious leaders have reached out to the pastor, asking him to stop the event.
Reverend Terry Jones had planned to burn some 200 Qurans in front of his Christian church, to mark the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the United States. He said the event was intended as a message to violent Islamic extremists, like al-Qaida which carried out the attacks in New York and Washington.
Religious leaders across the globe have condemned the planned event. Thursday, Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida traveled to Gainesville to meet Reverend Jones at his Dove World Outreach Center, where the Quran burning was set to take place.
After a closed-door meeting, Reverend Jones said the two men had reached an agreement to cancel Saturday's event and burn no Qurans. He said the decision was part of an agreement with a New York-based imam to move the location of an Islamic cultural center to be built near the site of the New York attacks.
"The American people do not want the mosque there, and of course Muslims do not want us to burn the Quran. The imam has agreed to move the mosque, we have agreed to cancel the event on Saturday. And on Saturday I will be flying up there [New York] to meet with him," he said.
Imam Musri said no deal was final, but he had hoped to facilitate a meeting between Reverend Jones and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is leading the New York site.
But the organizers of the Islamic center in New York denied any such agreement to move the project. Imam Rauf said he had not spoken with either man and had no schedule to meet Reverend Jones. And he said the project's backers will not toy with their religion or any other, and they will not barter.
In response, Reverend Jones accused Imam Musri of lying to him, and said he would reconsider the decision to cancel Saturday's event. He said the plan to burn Qurans was suspended, but did not set a new date.
Top U.S. officials have condemned the plan to burn Qurans, and military chiefs warned it could actually incite new violence by Islamic militants around the world.
Thursday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates had a brief phone conversation with Reverend Jones to ask him to stop his plans to burn the Muslim holy book. A Pentagon spokesman said Gates expressed grave concern that the event could endanger the lives of U.S. troops, especially those in Iraq and Afghanistan.