The United States marked the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on Saturday with commemorative ceremonies and although a pastor had canceled plans for a high-profile protest burning of the Quran, the Muslim holy book was abused in at least three separate incidents.
Hundreds of people in favor and against the building of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the site of the toppled World Trade Center gathered in New York — hours after ceremonies in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania to mark the 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. The protests were peaceful.
But there were at least two incidents of abuse of the Koran in Lower Manhattan. Separately, two evangelical preachers not affiliated with any mainstream church burned two copies of the Quran in Tennessee.
Florida preacher Terry Jones had outraged Muslims around the world with plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday.
But Jones, head of a tiny and obscure church in Gainesville, canceled his plans on Thursday and told NBC’s “Today” show in New York he would not burn the Quran, “Not today, not ever.”
His proposed action had triggered outbreaks of violence in Afghanistan in which one protester was shot dead. Thousands of Afghans demonstrated in the northeast of the country for a second day.
President Barack Obama and U.S. officials had warned that the burning of the Koran could harm America’s image abroad, endanger lives and act as a recruiting tool for al Qaeda. Muslims view the Koran as the literal word of God, and actual or alleged desecration of the Holy book has often sparked protests in the Muslim world
The proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, site of the toppled World Trade Center, has sparked controversy for weeks, with promoters saying it will help bring the city’s disparate communities closer together but opponents saying it is insensitive to those who died in the September 11 attacks.
One man protesting against the center tore pages from the Koran, and set them alight. In another incident, a man tore pages from a copy of the Quran and made vulgar gestures with it. Onlookers were shocked at the sight.
Near Nashville, Tennessee, evangelical Pastor Bob Old and another preacher used lighter fluid and a lighter to burn at least two copies of the Quran in his yard. Old called Islam “a false religion.”
There were no reports of any arrests.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered across the street from Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center church in Gainesville at the time the Koran burning had been scheduled to take place.
Local television showed them carrying signs reading “Dove Doesn’t Represent America” and “Burn Candles, Not Quran.”