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Florida Pastor Suspends Quran-Burning Plans on 9/11 Anniversary

September 9, 2010 at 5:46 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: A minister in Florida claimed today his congregation wouldn’t burn a Muslim holy book in Florida on Saturday. He said that was in exchange for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero moving its location, but the imam in New York said there was no deal.

Ray Suarez has our story.

RAY SUAREZ: The minister’s announcement came at a press conference late this afternoon.

PASTOR TERRY JONES, Dove World Outreach Center: I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the imam at the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location.

That, of course, cannot happen overnight, but he has agreed to move that. We felt that that would be a sign that God would want us to do it. The American people do not want the mosque there. And, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran. The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday.

RAY SUAREZ: The pressure on Pastor Jones from around the world had been increasing on him throughout the day. Just this morning, President Obama added his voice to those of international leaders asking Jones to call it off, saying it would be a — quote — “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.”

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, 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.

RAY SUAREZ: In response to fears of retaliation, the State Department issued a travel warning today for citizens abroad. It also ordered U.S. embassies around the world to ramp up their security in preparation.

In Pakistan and Afghanistan today, protesters burned U.S. flags and shouted anti-American slogans in anticipation of the weekend burning.

MOHAMMED SAFDAR HASHMI, resident of Islamabad (through translator): If they burn the Koran, then, God willing, all the Islamic organizations will join together and give a lesson to Americans, Jews and Christians. The sky and the people on Earth will watch this happening.

RAY SUAREZ: Back in Washington, a Department of Defense spokesman said a strong message of disapproval had already been relayed to Jones.

GEOFF MORRELL, Pentagon spokesperson: I think the message is out there, loud and clear. It’s impossible to miss the message that is coming from the leaders of the United States military, the United States government, our diplomatic leaders, some of our — you know, from all walks of life, frankly.

RAY SUAREZ: At a press conference held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, speakers called on Jones to examine the Koran before burning it.

NIHAD AWAD, executive director, Council on American-Islamic Relations: So, education is very, very important. We believe that he has not given himself a chance to read and reflect on the Koran. However, we believe in — in freedom of expression, but, also, with that comes responsibility. We are very concerned that this may lead to hate crimes against Muslims.

RAY SUAREZ: An imam from the Islamic Society of Central Florida spoke alongside Jones at the press conference today.

IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, president, Islamic Society of Central Florida: I have conveyed my deep concerns to Pastor Jones and the gravity of the situation, and because he doesn’t like to see anyone get hurt because of an action being taken here, and because I, like many Americans, Muslims and non, feel that the placement of a mosque near the Ground Zero location is unnecessary.

RAY SUAREZ: The imam said he would accompany Jones to the New York meeting this weekend to discuss relocating the mosque.