US Church Vows Koran Burning Will Go On Despite Warnings

WASHINGTON

An evangelical Florida church has vowed to press ahead with plans to burn the Koran to mark the anniversary of 9/11 despite mounting concern that it may endanger allied troops in Afghanistan.

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen condemned the church’s plans to mark Saturday’s ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks saying they were “in strong contradiction with all the values that we stand for and fight for.”

And he warned during a visit to Washington on Tuesday “there is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.”

His comments followed a stern warning from the commander of US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, who said burning the holy book of Islam would provide propaganda for insurgents and fuel anti-American sentiment across the Muslim world.

“It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort,” Petraeus told the Wall Street Journal ahead of the poignant anniversary to remember almost 3,000 people killed in the attacks on the United States.

“It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community,” the general said.

But the pastor of the small Florida church, Terry Jones, remained defiant, saying the planned torching of the Koran would go ahead.

Jones, who heads the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, said he had given “serious” consideration to the concerns expressed by Petraeus.

“We are taking the general’s words very serious. We are continuing to pray about the action on September 11,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said “we have firmly made up our mind” to go ahead with burning the Muslim holy book.

“I mean, how long, when does America stand for truth?” said Jones.

“Instead of us being blamed for what other people will do or might do, why don’t we send a warning to them? Why don’t we send a warning to radical Islam and say, ‘Don’t do it. If you attack us, if you attack us, we will attack you,’” he said.

Al-Qaeda militants plowed two hijacked commercial airlines into the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, destroying the twin towers and raining terror on the city.

Another plane was flown into the Pentagon outside Washington, while a fourth crashed into a Pennsylvania field after passengers overpowered the hijackers.

Pastor Jones said the Koran torching aimed “to remember those who were brutally murdered on September 11,” and to send a warning “to the radical element of Islam.”

“We wanted to send a very clear message to them that we are not interested in their Sharia law. And we do not tolerate their threats, their fear, their radicalness. We live in the United States of America,” he said.

But the plans are already triggering outrage in the Islamic world.

There have been protests in the Afghan capital Kabul and in Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim-majority country – while Iran has warned the burning could unleash an uncontrolled Muslim response.

On Monday about 200 men gathered near a mosque in Kabul to protest against the planned torching, shouting “Death to America” and “Long live Islam” after midday prayers, witnesses said.

Afghanistan, where Petraeus leads a 150,000-strong US-led NATO force against an extremist Taliban-led insurgency, is a deeply devout Islamic country where actions seen as against the religion have previously led to deadly violence.

The planned protest by the 50-member Florida congregation – who have set up a Facebook page in support of the event bearing the motto “Islam Is Of The Devil” – triggered a warning from Iran’s foreign ministry.

“We advise Western countries to prevent the exploitation of freedom of expression to insult religious sanctities; otherwise the emotions of Muslim nations cannot be controlled,” ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said.

In late August about 100 Indonesian Islamists demonstrated outside the US embassy in Jakarta and threatened “jihad” or holy war if the US Christian group went through with the stunt.

The Indonesian Protestant Christian Churches Union, which represents some 20,000 churches, has sent a letter to US President Barack Obama asking him to intervene to prevent the book burning, chairman Andreas Yewangoe said.

“The Koran burning will harm world peace. We’re deeply concerned as it could create tension here in Indonesia,” he said.

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