A plan by a small Florida church to burn Qurans on September 11, which has triggered worldwide controversy, is a “recruitment bonanza for al Qaeda,” President Obama said Thursday.
“You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan” as a result of the proposal by the Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center, Obama said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “This could increase the recruitment of individuals who’d be willing to blow themselves up in American cities, or European cities.”
The Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of the Dove Center, has said he will proceed with the plan Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, despite increased pressure to abandon the proposal and warnings that going ahead could endanger U.S. troops and Americans worldwide.
Interpol on Thursday issued a global alert to its 188 member countries, warning of a “strong likelihood” of violent attacks if the Quran burning proceeds. And the FBI warned local law enforcement that the plan, along with other recent controversies involving the American Muslim community, could lead to hate crimes and encourage extremist rhetoric, although a federal law enforcement official said there was no credible information that attacks were planned.
The FBI visited Jones at the Dove Center on Thursday, according to Jeffrey Westcott, special agent in charge of the Jacksonville, Florida, bureau. The FBI also visited him a few weeks ago, he said, but would not say what was discussed.
On Wednesday, the Vatican joined a chorus of groups imploring the church not to burn Islam’s holy book, saying it would be an “outrageous and grave gesture.” The president of the United Nations General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, also expressed concern, saying it will “lead to uncontrollable reactions” and spark tension worldwide.
Earlier this week, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, warned that the plan “could cause significant problems” for American troops overseas.
Jones has rejected the pleas, saying his message targets radical Islamists.
“The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them,” Jones said on CNN’s “AC360.”
“We are burning the book,” Jones said. “We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people.”
Referring to Jones, Obama said Thursday, “If he’s listening, I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance.”
“And as a very practical matter, as commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger 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 … this is a destructive act that he’s engaging in.”
Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations announced an initiative called “Learn, Don’t Burn” on Thursday and will distribute Qurans to replace the burned copies.