Fla. Preacher: Quran Burning Plan 'Back to Square One'

( [email protected] ) Sep 10, 2010 08:55 AM EDT
Just hours after canceling “International Burn A Quran Day,” the Florida church behind the controversial event said Thursday it could move forward with its original plan if the deal it thought it struck turns out to be non-existent.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center speaks to the media as Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida looks on at left, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010, in Gainesville, Fla.… Read more AP Photo / Phil Sandlin

Just hours after canceling “International Burn A Quran Day,” the Florida church behind the controversial event said Thursday it could move forward with its original plan if the deal it thought it struck turns out to be non-existent.

"We have not canceled the burning on Saturday,” said Wayne Sapp, associate pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. “We have suspended it until we get confirmation on the info we were given today.”

Earlier in the day, the church’s pastor, Terry Jones, told members of the press that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the proposed Islamic center near New York City’s Ground Zero, had "agreed to move the mosque.”

In response, Jones and members of his church agreed to cancel Saturday’s burning as they considered the canceling or moving of the mosque “a sign from God” to do so.

“The American people do not want the mosque there. And of course Moslems do not want us to burn the Quran,” Jones said Thursday.

Following Jones’ press conference, however, Park51, the group behind the proposed Islamic center, refuted reports on the alleged agreement, noting that Rauf “hasn’t” agreed to moving the $100 million, 13-story facility.

“It is untrue that Park51 is being moved,” reported the team behind the Muslim-led project in its official Twitter account.

“The project is moving ahead as planned. What is being reported in the media is false,” it added.

Shortly after, Rauf released his own statement saying he was “glad” that Jones decided not to burn any copies of the Quran. But he also said he has not spoken to Jones or to Muhammad Musri, the imam who reportedly mediated communication between Rauf's office and the pastor.

“I am surprised by their announcement,” Rauf stated. “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 night before, Rauf had argued that moving the site for the Park51 project would “strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression and violence against our country.”

"If this is not handled correctly, this crisis could become much bigger than the Danish cartoon crisis, which resulted in attacks on Danish embassies in various parts of the Muslim world,” Rauf said in an interview with CNN’s Soledad O’Brien on Wednesday night.

“If we don't handle this crisis correctly it could become something which could really become very, very, very dangerous indeed,” he added.

Rauf’s claims were quickly shot down by opponents of Park51, however, including the American Center for Law and Justice, which filed a lawsuit challenging the project.

"By interjecting the claim that our national security is at risk if the mosque is not built at that site is not only offensive to the 9/11 victims' families and friends, but to an overwhelming majority of Americans who don't want the mosque built at Ground Zero," remarked ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow.

“The Imam continues to miss the point - Americans are tolerant, but Americans also understand this is not the place to build a mosque," he added.

After hearing Rauf’s latest statement, Jones told NBC News that "we are a little back to square one."

First announced in July, “International Burn A Quran Day” is scheduled for the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead and over 6,000 injured. According to Jones and Musri, the two were planning to fly out to New York that day for the meeting with Rauf following the burning's cancellation.

During the press conference, Musri said he “made contact” with Rauf’s office and “got a commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him (Rauf) in the company of Pastor Jones to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.”

Musri, who serves as the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, also pointed out that he – “like many Americans, Muslim and non[-Muslim]” – feels the placement of a mosque near the Ground Zero location is “unnecessary.”

The mosque, he added, “has become a clear provocation to many people to be violent against mosques across the nation.”

As such, Rauf is reportedly inviting leaders of different faiths to help make the Park51 project a symbol of interfaith peacemaking. The imam says the proposed center seeks to cultivate “understanding among all religions and cultures.”