Jones rethinking decision to cancel event, accusing Muslim leader of being “lied to” as thousands protest against plan.
|Anti-US slogans were chanted as hundreds of protesters held rallies in Karachi, southern Pakistan [AFP]|
Thousands of Muslims have taken to the streets across Afghanistan, with some threatening to attack US bases over a plan by a US pastor to burn copies of the Quran.
A crowd, estimated at 10,000 by a government official, poured out of mosques into the streets of Faizabad, the capital of Afghanistan’s northeast Badakhshan province, after Friday prayers and coinciding with Eid al-Fitr celebrations, which mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Reuters news agency reported that one man was shot dead when the crowd of protesters attacked a nearby Nato base, hurling stones at the German forces posted there.
Afghan security forces rushed to the scene to restore order, with three police being injured in the clash, officials said.
A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said they were aware of protests happening in Faizabad and were looking into the incident.
Al Jazeera’s Sue Turton, reporting from Kabul, said more demonstrations are being planned throughout the country.
“A demonstration has taken place in Farah, in the far west of Afghanistan, and there are reports that a number of people were injured. There are reports of protests set to take place in other parts of the country too,” Turton said.
A third demonstration has taken place in Kabul, [but] according to witnesses, it was relatively peaceful.
In Pakistan, too, protesters marched in the cities of Peshawar and Karachi over the proposed burning of Qurans, shouting anti-US slogans.
Terry Jones, a Christian pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, has called off his planned Quran-burning event slated for the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, after drawing international condemnation and a warning from Barack Obama, the US president, that it could provoke al-Qaeda suicide bombings and incite violence around the world.
|In an interview with US network on Friday, Jones said that planned Quran-burning will ‘not go ahead’ [AFP]|
“Right now we have no plans to go ahead with the event,” Jones confirmed to the US television programme Good Morning America on Friday.
Jones, the head of the Dove World Outreach Center, first announced the event’s suspension on Thursday, but then indicated he might reconsider, accusing a Muslim leader of lying to him about moving a planned Islamic centre in New York.
Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of central Florida, and the sponsor of the New York mosque both denied such an agreement had been reached.
However, Jones says he will fly to New York on Saturday with Musri to meet Feisal Abdul Rauf, the New York imam at the centre of another controversy.
“We believe that the imam is going to keep his word, what he promised us yesterday … We believe that we are, as he said, and promised, going to meet with the imam in New York tomorrow,” Jones told Good Morning America.
The proposed location of the New York centre – near the “ground zero” site of the September 11 attacks – has drawn opposition from many Americans who say it is insensitive to families of victims of the nearly 3,000 people killed that day.
Despite the Florida pastor apparently backing down from his incendiary proposal, backlash against his announced plans appeared to be spreading on Friday.
In Afghanistan’s eastern Nangahar, tribal chiefs threatened to attack Nato bases near the Pakistan border if Jones did end up going ahead.
“Those who threaten to burn the Quran must know that they will set their own nations alight”
Imam Noor Zaman, Hazrat Mustafah mosque
“If they do this, we will attack American bases and close the highway used by convoys supplying American troops,” a cleric named Zahidullah told Reuters.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, used his Eid message to the nation – delivered from his presidential palace to a select audience of government ministers and officials – to condemn the plan by the Dove World Outreach Centre.
He called on Jones to “not even think” about burning Qurans because “it was an insult to [Muslim] nations.”
Religious leaders in the capital voiced their disgust at the plans, with Imam Noor Zaman of Kabul’s Hazrat Mustafah mosque telling worshippers: “Those who threaten to burn the Quran must know that they will set their own nations alight.”
According to our correspondent, Karzai’s Eid message was “disappointing”.
“There was disappointment that President Karzai did not appeal for calm ahead of upcoming parliamentary elections. The damage has been done, there is so much momentum now and calls for more demonstrations to be staged,” Turton said.
At other mosques in Kabul, clerics also labelled the plan dangerous. “Muslims are ready to sacrifice their sons, fathers and mothers for Islam and the Quran,” a preacher said in one sermon, greeted by cries of “Allahu Akbar” [God is Greatest].
Other world leaders and international bodies have also denounced Jones’s plan to burn copies of Islam’s holy book on Saturday.
Interpol, the international police agency, warned governments worldwide of an increased risk of “terrorist attacks” if the burning went ahead, and the US state department issued a warning to Americans travelling overseas.
A spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry on Friday condemned the now-halted action as “a provocative and satanic act”, according to Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency.
On Thursday, the United Nations’ top diplomat in Afghanistan told Reuters protests over the plan could force the delay of parliamentary elections set for September 18.
The poll is seen as a key test of stability in Afghanistan before Obama conducts a war strategy review in December. Obama has said the plan, dismissed by conservatives and liberals alike as an attention-seeking stunt, would be a “recruitment bonanza” for al-Qaeda.
Obama has sought to improve relations with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.
The US has legal protections for the right to free speech and there was little law enforcement authorities could do to stop Jones from going ahead, other than citing him under local bylaws against public burning.