Pastor cancels Koran burning

By Krissah Thompson and Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 10, 2010

The pastor of a small Florida church who had planned to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks said Thursday that he would cancel the event - at least for now - hours after President Obama condemned it as a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda" and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates telephoned the minister as a worldwide fury grew.

At a chaotic news conference in Gainesville, the Rev. Terry Jones said he gave up his plans after reaching a deal to stop the construction of an Islamic center near Ground Zero.

But Jones appeared to have misunderstood or mischaracterized discussions, if there were any, about the center. Later, he said he was misled by an imam in Florida who "clearly, clearly lied to us" and that he would "rethink our decision."

Muhammad Musri, a Florida imam who was working with Jones to try to persuade him to call off the event, said at the news conference that he had brokered a meeting with the project developers in New York, not an agreement to terminate their plans.

A short time later, New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his partner in the project, Manhattan real estate developer Sharif el-Gamal, said in a statement earlier Thursday evening that they had made no deal to stop their plans and had not, in fact, spoken to Jones or Musri.

"I am surprised by their announcement," Rauf's statement said. "We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."

The parties did, however, apparently agree to meet Saturday in New York.

Musri told the Associated Press late last night that Jones told him he canceled his plans because he didn't want to endanger American troops, not because of a deal on the center. Musri said Jones "stretched my words" about what was said about the center.

The disjointed exchanges are part of an odd saga that has vaulted an unknown pastor to an international stage.

Few outside Gainesville had heard of Jones or his Dove World Outreach Center in late July when he announced "International Burn the Koran Day" - and it largely remained that way until this week when the story appeared in the national news. As anger grew among Muslims worldwide and as U.S. leaders began to fear that images of Koran burning in the United States would be a recruitment tool for Islamic extremists, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, warned in a statement that the move could endanger American troops abroad.

Condemnations from across the political and religious spectrums poured in, including from the Vatican, conservative talk-show host Glenn Beck, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. By the time Jones held his news conference, Obama had weighed in, the State Department had warned traveling Americans that they could be in danger and Gates had felt compelled to ask the pastor to cancel the event.

The president made his plea on Thursday during an interview on ABC.

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