The White House: Koran burning endangers troops
The White House joined the chorus of criticism against a Florida pastor who plans to burns copies of the Koran, saying Tuesday it could further endanger US soldiers in Afghanistan or other Muslim nations, dpa reported.
The concerns were first raised by General David Petraeus, the top US commander in Afghanistan, who issued a statement that also said burning Islam's sacred book would make the mission in Afghanistan more difficult.
"As (Petraeus) said, it puts our troops in harm's way, and obviously any type of activity like that puts our troops in harm's way would be a concern to this administration," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, has declared Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as "International Burn a Koran Day."
Jones, who leads an evangelical congregation of just 50 members, intends to burn copies the Koran Saturday evening and has encouraged others to join. His plans have been sharply criticized by mainstream religious leaders of all faiths and. The mayor of Gainesville has called the Dove World Research Centre an "embarrassment to our community."
Jones told CNN he understood the concerns raised by Petraeus and was "weighing the situation" in light of the general's remarks but said he plans to go forward with the burning to protest Islamic extremism.
"We realize that this action would indeed offend people, offend the Muslims," he said. "I am offended when they burn the flag. I am offended when they burn the Bible. But we feel that the message that we are trying to send is much more important than people being offended."
"It is not to the moderate Muslim," he added. "Our message is not a message of hate. Our message is a message of warning to the radical element of Islam."
Petraeus warned that the Taliban could use the act to inspire its fight against US-and NATO-led forces, and put US lives and the US mission in Afghanistan at risk. He pointed to large demonstrations that have taken place in Kabul since news of Jones' plans spread.
"It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems," Petraeus said in a statement. "Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community."
"Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult," he said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was in Washington for a meeting with President Barack Obama, was quoted by the Washington Post as saying burning the Koran contradicts "all the values we stand for and fight for."
Alleged desecration of the Koran has repeatedly unleashed violence in the past. Some 15 people died in Afghanistan in 2005, after the magazine Newsweek wrote about Korans being defiled in the US Guantanamo Bay detention centre. The US government strongly rejected the report and Newsweek later retracted it.