A Christian pastor on Thursday canceled a plan to burn copies of the Koran at his obscure Florida church, which had drawn international condemnation and a warning from President Barack Obama that it could provoke al Qaeda suicide bombings.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Terry Jones, an obscure minister who heads the tiny Dove World Outreach Center church in the Florida town of Gainesville, to urge him not to go ahead, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates had expressed “grave concern” in the brief telephone call with Jones that the Koran burning “would put the lives of our forces at risk, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Jones later told journalists outside his church that he was calling off his plan, which had caused worldwide alarm and raised tensions over this year’s anniversary of the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.
He confirmed Gates’ call but linked his decision to what he said was an agreement by Muslim leaders — which they denied — to relocate an Islamic cultural center and mosque planned close to the site of the September 11 attacks in New York.
The proposed location has drawn opposition from many Americans who say it is insensitive to families of the victims of the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“The imam has agreed to move the mosque, we have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday,” Jones said.