Terry Jones, the pastor of a 30-member church in Gainesville, Florida, has called off his controversial plans to desecrate a symbol of the Islamic religion on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, at least for the moment.
After receiving a call from United States Secretary of Defence Robert Gates on Thursday afternoon, urging Mr. Jones not to attack Muslim religious sentiments on Saturday, the pastor agreed to suspend his plans.
According to reports, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said that in his call to the pastor, “The Secretary expressed his grave concern that going forward would put the lives of our forces at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and urged him not to proceed with it. That was the extent of it.”
Shortly after the call the pastor, along with Imam Muhammad Musry of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, issued a press statement saying that he had been in touch with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf about moving the location of the so called “Ground Zero mosque” and was willing to suspend his plans.
Mr. Jones said, “I will be flying up there on Saturday to meet with the Imam [of] the Ground Zero mosque. He has agreed to move the location. That of course cannot happen overnight... The American people do not want the mosque there and of course Muslims do not want us to [attack their religion].” He said that he had therefore “agreed to cancel our event on Saturday”.
However after Mr. Jones’ press conference, Imam Feisal was reported to have released a statement saying, “I am glad that Pastor Jones has decided not to [proceed]. However, I have not spoken to Pastor Jones or Imam Musry. I am surprised by their announcement.”
Mr. Jones’ actions had earlier elicited condemnations across the board from the U.S. government, with President Barack Obama saying that Mr. Jones’ plans to attack the religion would be a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda”.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus had also sharply criticised Mr. Jones’ plans, with General Petraeus expressing concern that they would endanger U.S. troops and the U.S.’ overall military effort.