The Christian minister of a small church in Florida canceled on Thursday his plan to burn copies of the Quran that had been scheduled for Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The planned protest had sparked angry demonstrations by Muslims around the world.
The Reverend Terry Jones announced his change of heart at a news conference late Thursday in front of his church in Gainesville, Florida.
Jones said he called off the Quran burning protest because he had secured an agreement with Muslim leaders in New York City to move the location of a controversial planned Islamic center and mosque away from the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks known as Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
"The American people do not want the mosque there and, of course, Muslims do not want us to burn the Quran," said Terry Jones. "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."
But the New York imam behind the Islamic center project issued a written statement saying there was no deal to move the Islamic center and mosque slated to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero.
The statement from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf denied that any talks had taken place with Jones and said no agreement had been reached.
Reverend Jones' plans to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday had drawn worldwide condemnation. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and numerous religious leaders around the country spoke out against the planned protest and urged the previously obscure Florida minister to abandon the idea.
Jones spoke to Defense Secretary Robert Gates shortly before his news conference. Pentagon officials say Gates urged the minister not to go ahead with his protest on Saturday, arguing that it would put the lives of U.S. soldiers serving abroad at risk.
Jones told reporters he has been praying on the issue.
"I get a little bit emotional," he said. "This has been, of course, for us a very, very difficult, trying time. We have been in very much thought and prayer over this whole period. A lot of times we were asked, what would it take to call this thing off."
Jones said an idea came to him while praying that he would call off the planned burning of the Quran, if Muslim leaders in New York City would agree to move the site of Islamic center away from site of the 2001 terrorist attacks in lower Manhattan.
"The American people, as a whole, do not want the mosque at the Ground Zero location," said Jones. "That if they were willing to either cancel the mosque at the Ground Zero location or if they were willing to move that location, willing to move it away from that location, we would consider that a sign from God. 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."
Jones appeared at the news conference with a local imam, Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. Imam Musri told CNN that he was acting as an intermediary between the Christian minister and Muslim leaders in New York, and that he would travel with Jones to New York City on Saturday. But Musri also said no deal had been reached to move the Islamic center, contrary to the claim by Reverend Jones.