“The American people do not want the mosque there, and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran,” Terry Jones, head of the Dove World Outreach Center, told a press conference.
“The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday, and on Saturday I will be flying up there to meet with him.” Jones, the pastor of the small church of about 50 members, had planned to burn the Korans on Saturday’s ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks to honor the almost 3,000 people killed in the Al-Qaeda attacks.
Amid global condemnation, religious leaders led moves to try to stop the burning, and Florida-based imam Mohammed Musri met for a second time on Thursday with the pastor.
Musri said he had been in contact with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to win a commitment to fly to New York to meet with him and Jones “to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.
However, the organizers behind the controversial plans swiftly denied the claim by the radical Florida pastor that they had decided to move the project elsewhere.
“We don’t know anything about it,” one of the main promoters Daisy Khan, and the wife of the imam behind the project, told AFP.
A fierce debate has raged around the proposals to open an Islamic cultural center close to the site where the World Trade Center once stood until it was destroyed in the 9/11 Al-Qaeda attacks.
“I want to thank Pastor Jones for his courage and his willingness to take these serious events that are unfolding,” Musri added.
Saturday’s planned Koran burning had ignited international outrage and sparked warnings that it would trigger an Islamic backlash.
The State Department had issued a travel alert to “caution US citizens of the potential for anti-US demonstrations in many countries… some of which may turn violent.
And the global police agency Interpol had also warned of “tragic consequences” if the event goes ahead.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said “there is a strong likelihood that violent attacks on innocent people would follow.”
In a sign of gathering Muslim rage, thousands of Afghans marched through a small town near Kabul Thursday, chanting anti-US and anti-Christian slogans.
The Organization of the Islamic Conference, which represents the entire Muslim world, said the act would constitute “an outrageous path of hatred.”Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leader of the world’s biggest Muslim nation, told Obama in a letter it would torpedo attempts to reconcile Muslims and the West.
“Indonesia and the US are building or bridging relations between the Western world and Islam. If the Koran burning occurs, then those efforts will be useless,” Yudhoyono wrote.
The White House Thursday had been weighing whether to appeal directly to Jones to call off the planned ceremony.
US President Barack Obama warned if it went ahead it would provide “a recruitment bonanza for Al-Qaeda.””This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities,” Obama told ABC.
Leading Republicans had also urged Jones to reconsider.
“Pastor (Terry) Jones’s threats to burn the Koran will put American service men/women in danger — for their sake please doesn’t do it!” Senator John McCain said on his Twitter feed, which has some 1.7 million followers.
Senate Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also warned that the “stunt” risked endangering US troops in the field, while urging the news media to show restraint.