Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Pastor drops plan to burn Korans

Pastor Terry Jones now says he will halt the Koran burning protest if he can meet with officials planning a mosque at Ground Zero (AP)
Pastor Terry Jones now says he will halt the Koran burning protest if he can meet with officials planning a mosque at Ground Zero (AP)
Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida with Pastor Terry Jones (AP)

Pastor Terry Jones who planned an “International Burn-a-Koran Day” on September 11 called off the protest last night after his plans were widely condemned.

Foreign Secretary William Hague was among those who condemned Mr Jones, who leads a tiny Florida church, describing his plan as “selfish and provocative in the extreme”.

Mr Jones said he had called off the book-burning after he agreed to meet the imam of a proposed mosque in New York, close to the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

He claimed the imam had agreed to change the location of the mosque.

“Our thought was: the American people do not as a whole want the mosque at the Ground Zero location, that if they were willing to either cancel the mosque at the Ground Zero location or if they were willing to move that location, if they were willing to move it away from that location, we would consider that a sign from God,” he said last night.

Mr Jones said he would accompany a local imam to New York on Saturday to meet Imam Rauf.

“He has agreed to move the location. That of course cannot happen overnight but he has agreed to move that,” he said.

“The American people do not want the mosque there and of course Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran.”

Imam Muhammed Musri, head of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, said he would be travelling with Mr Jones to New York.

He told reporters: “Because I, like many Americans, Muslims or not, feel that the placement of a mosque near the Ground Zero location is unnecessary and it has become a clear provocation to many people to be violent against mosques across the nation, I have made this morning contact with the office of the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and got the commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him in the company of Pastor Jones.”

But BBC News 24 reported last night that the developers of the Ground Zero site had said in a statement that there were no plans to move the mosque.

And a spokesman for Donald Trump last night said he had offered to buy out one of the major investors in the partnership that controls the site near Ground Zero earmarked for the 13-storey Islamic centre and mosque.

In a letter released by Trump's publicist, the billionaire businessman told Hisham Elzanaty he would buy his stake for 25% more than he had paid.

Trump said he was making the offer to end “a very serious, inflammatory and highly divisive situation” and attached the condition that backers of the mosque project would need to promise it would be at least five blocks further away from the World Trade Centre site.

But his offer was immediately rejected.

The lawyer representing the site's owners dismissed Trump's offer, describing it as “just a cheap attempt to get publicity and get in the limelight”.

Until last night Mr Jones said he was going ahead with the stunt despite receiving more than 100 death threats.

Meanwhile, Mr Hague criticised the planned action in Florida as “provocative”.

“The burning of the Koran would be offensive not just to Muslims but to all supporters of religious freedom and tolerance worldwide,” he said.

“Eid is a time of celebration, charitable giving and family gathering.

“To seek to mar it in this calculated way would be selfish and provocative in the extreme.

“We hope that the individuals involved will reconsider and refrain from carrying out this act.

“This is of course a matter for the US authorities and we are in full agreement with the US administration's reaction.”

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

A spokesman for Prime Minister

David Cameron said that he “strongly opposed” any bid to offend members of a religious group and Commons Leader Sir George Young was cheered by MPs as he described the pastor as a “stupid bigot”.

The pastor's supporters had posted copies of the Islamic holy book, which Muslims believe should be treated with the utmost respect, to put on a bonfire in Gainesville to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Jones said it was planned to “send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their |behaviour”.

The PM's spokesman said: “Primarily this is an issue for the US, but clearly the Government's view is that we would not condone the burning of any book.

“We would strongly oppose any attempt to offend any member of any religious or ethnic group. We are committed to religious |tolerance.”

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