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Monday, September 13, 2010

Fla. pastor issues new demands

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A Florida pastor who has threatened to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks issued new demands Friday.
Terry Jones, flanked by Houston-based Christian evangelist K.A. Paul, gave New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf two hours Friday afternoon to answer questions about whether he plans to relocate the mosque and cultural center planned near Ground Zero.

Jones said at a hastily called press conference: "This challenge goes to the imam in New York. We would like to make an announcement to give a challenge to the imam in New York."

Paul, who heads the Global Peace Initiative, an evangelical group based in Houston, said "there is a confusion going on. We want to clear that confusion to find out if he has agreed to move the mosque from Ground Zero."

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The men said they were giving the New York imam two hours, from about 1:20 p.m. to about 3:20 p.m, to call, and gave out two phone numbers. They did not address what they might do if he does not call or declines to move the planned mosque.

Around 3:30 p.m. Friday, Jones and Paul told news media camped in a field about 100 yards from the church that they had not heard from the imam in New York.

"The last two days I have been in much prayer with Pastor Terry Jones," Paul said. "I asked the pastor not to burn the Qurans, and I ask the imam not to build the mosque at Ground Zero. The pastor has agreed in principle" not to burn the Qurans.

The two then started to walk away. At reporters' urging, Paul came back to elaborate. He said Jones has agreed with him not to burn the Qurans on Saturday.

"I have confirmed 100% that he will not burn the Quran tomorrow," Paul said. Then Jones' son, Luke Jones, came outside and told reporters that Paul was speaking only for himself. "There will be no Quran-burning tomorrow," he said. "I can't speak for the future."

Paul arrived at the church Thursday to seek an audience with Jones. The Florida pastor said the men have prayed together for two days, and this is the path they feel they should follow.

Jones, the leader of a tiny Florida church, has said he called off his event under pressure from the White House and wouldn't follow through with burning the Muslim holy book if he was able to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is leading an effort to build the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. Rauf said in a statement Friday that he has no plans at this time to meet with Jones, although he is open to seeing anyone "seriously committed to pursuing peace."

Also Friday, a group of Gainesville clergymen brought 8,000 signatures on petitions urging Jones not to burn the Quran.

"We have 8,048 signatures from 97 countries around the world asking Terry Jones to continue to keep his decision not to burn the Quran," said Rev. Larry Reimer, pastor of United Church of Christ in Gainesville.

Luke Jones and two assistant pastors, Wayne and Stephanie Sapp, are all wearing sidearms.

"The FBI's been here four times," Luke Jones said. "They told us the threats are very severe and we need to take them very seriously."

In Afghanistan, thousands protested the church's plan to burn the Muslim holy book. At least 11 people have been injured. Protesters also burned an American flag at a mosque after Friday prayers.

Jones on Thursday called off his Sept. 11 plan to burn copies of the Quran. Hours later, he threatened to reconsider.

Thursday afternoon, Jones said he was swayed by a call from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the promise of a face-to- face meeting with the Muslim leader behind a planned Islamic cultural center, including a mosque, near the World Trade Center site in New York. Later that day, he accused another Muslim leader of lying to him with a promise to relocate that mosque.

Meanwhile, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, which has been criticized for protests at the funerals of U.S. servicemembers, said Thursday night that it will burn the Quran and a U.S. flag Saturday, although specifics had not been ironed out.

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