Obama: Koran burning "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaeda
US President Barack Obama Thursday said a Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Koran would be a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda" and called it a "stunt" that would endanger the lives of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, dpa reported.
But answering pleas by top foreign officials in India, Pakistan and elsewhere that the US government stop the burning, Obama - who spoke out for the first time since the controversy erupted - noted that his hands are tied by the US constitution.
Pastor Terry Jones could only be cited for "public burning," Obama said in an interview with ABC News.
Jones and his small congregation in Gainesville, Florida plan Saturday to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US by destroying the Islamic holy book. The city has refused to give him a public burning permit, and is preparing security measures for the event.
US religious leaders and others plan to travel to Gainesville to protest the burning.
Through recent decades, the US Supreme Court has upheld the right of Americans to even burn the American flag as an act of free expression protected under the US constitution.
"We are a government of laws. And so, we have to abide by those laws. And my understanding is that (Jones) can be cited for public burning. But that's the extent of the laws that we have available to us," Obama said.
Obama admitted it was "frustrating" that an obscure pastor whose church has a membership of less than 50 could provoke such global controversy.
"You know, part of this country's history is people doing destructive or offensive or harmful things. And yet, we still have to make sure that we're following the laws. And that's part of what I love about this country," Obama said.
Obama said he was clearly worried about the risk Jones' "stunt" would pose for "our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat that he is making."
Obama said that such an act could serve to recruit more people willing "to blow themselves up in American or European cities."
Obama said he hoped that Jones would come to his senses and "listen to those better angels and understand this is a destructive act he's engaging in."