A planned mass burning of copies of the Koran by an obscure Florida church has drawn worldwide condemnation, with US President Barack Obama saying that it was a "recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda".
REUTERS - President Barack Obama warned on Thursday that an obscure U.S. Christian pastor's plan to burn the Koran could provoke al Qaeda suicide bombings, as international pressure mounted on Washington to step in.
"This is a recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda," Obama said in an ABC television interview. "You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities."
The international police agency Interpol warned governments worldwide of an increased risk of terrorist attacks if the planned burning went ahead and the U.S. State Department issued a warning to Americans traveling overseas.
The FBI already has advised of possible retaliatory attacks on U.S. facilities abroad.
Terry Jones, leader of a small Protestant church with about 30 members in Gainesville, Florida, is planning to burn copies of the Islamic holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington that killed almost 3,000 people.
Increasing pressure on Jones to abandon his plan, the United Nations warned that the Taliban could try to exploit anger over the Koran burning to derail Afghanistan's Sept. 18 parliamentary election.
"It could affect the timing and it could affect the way the elections take place," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's special representative, Staffan de Mistura, told Reuters.
Topic of administration discussion
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the government was discussing whether to call Jones to urge him to drop his plan. He called the pastor a "desperate man" who craved attention.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said the administration was worried that calling the pastor could set a precedent that would inspire copy-cat "extremists."
Jones told USA Today earlier that if he were contacted by the White House "that would cause us to definitely think it over. That's what we're doing now. I don't think a call from them is something we would ignore."
Jones says Jesus would approve of his plan for "Burn a Koran Day," which he calls a reprisal for Islamist terrorism. Church officials say they have 200 copies of the Koran.
But many people, both conservative and liberal, have dismissed it as an attention-seeking stunt by the preacher, who is author of a book titled "Islam Is of the Devil."
The scene outside Jones' stone and metal Dove World Outreach Center was quiet on Thursday, apart from a large crowd of journalists, including several TV satellite trucks. Police officers were checking the IDs of anyone entering the single road that leads to the property, allowing through only credentialed media and church members.
Visit from FBI
Three FBI agents were seen entering the church. They stayed about 20 minutes and left without responding to questions from reporters.
The United States has powerful legal protections for the right to free speech and there is little law enforcement authorities can do to stop Jones from going ahead, other than
citing him under local bylaws against public burning.
"The bottom line is that if there are no laws broken (so far) we cannot prevent the action," Bob Woods, spokesman for the Gainesville mayor's office, told Reuters this week.
Jones' threat has caused worldwide alarm and raised tensions over the 9/11 anniversary, which this year coincides with the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival ending the fasting month of Ramadan.
It also comes amid tensions over plans for an Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the attack site in New York, which is opposed by many Americans.
Jones' plan has been condemned by foreign governments, international church groups, U.S. religious and political leaders and military commanders, who say it will jeopardize U.S. military personnel abroad, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan," Obama said on "Good Morning America."
"We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat that he's making," the president said, urging Jones to listen to "those better angels."
Jones' plan risks undermining Obama's efforts to reach out to the world's more than 1 billion Muslims at a time when he is trying to advance the Middle East peace process and build solidarity against Iran over its disputed nuclear program.
Al-Azhar, one of the most prominent universities for Sunni Islamic learning, said in a statement that Muslims would not accept any abuse of the Koran and warned that if the burning went ahead, it would arouse the ire of Muslims worldwide.
India, prone to sectarian strife, called on the United States to stop Jones and urged the media to refrain from showing pictures of burning Korans. Neighboring Pakistan said steps should be taken "to stop these fundamentalists."
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and where Obama spent part of his childhood, has written to the U.S. leader, urging him to step in personally.
"President Yudhoyono thinks that if this was allowed to happen, it will disturb world peace," an aide said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called on the United States to "guarantee the rights of American Muslims and prevent the spread of such inappropriate and disrespectful actions."
The Convocation of American Churches in Europe warned of reprisals against Christians in Muslim-majority countries, while the World Council of Churches, representing 349 branches of Christianity, and Jewish leaders also condemned Jones.
France condemned what it called the "irresponsible and vicious" statements by Jones and said the pastor's plan was an insult to the memory of the Sept. 11 victims.
Streets were quiet in the Afghan capital on Thursday as Eid al-Fitr celebrations approached. But police have been put on alert after angry demonstrations earlier this week when hundreds of Afghans, mostly students from religious schools, gathered outside a Kabul mosque chanting "Death to America."
Date created : 2010-09-09