Pastor Terry Jones to meet Ground Zero imam

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The Independent US

The pastor who planned an "International Burn-a-Koran Day" will instead fly to New York to try to meet the imam overseeing plans for a controversial Islamic centre near Ground Zero.

Pastor Terry Jones confirmed today that the protest - planned for tomorrow's ninth anniversary of the attacks on the US - had been called off and he will fly to New York tonight.

In a statement made outside his church, the Dove World Outreach Centre in Gainesville, Florida, he stressed that he was not against Muslims.

"In America we have freedom of religion, freedom of expression," he told reporters.

"They are more than welcome to be here, worship, to build mosques."

Mr Jones initially called off the protest last night, saying he had been promised the centre's location would be changed, but then admitted he was reconsidering after it emerged no such commitment had been made by the imam.

He today told CBS breakfast television programme The Early Show that the stunt had been cancelled and he would fly to New York tonight with the hope of meeting Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

The meeting would come as the world remembers the thousands of people killed and injured when Muslim extremists hijacked four planes and flew two into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre and a third into the Pentagon.

The fourth crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers and crew tried to regain control of the aircraft.

The British victims of the atrocity will be remembered in Grosvenor Square, London, tomorrow, where floral tributes will be laid on behalf of the UK and US governments.

Memorial services will take place at the crash sites tomorrow and the remembrance event at Ground Zero will be followed by rallies for and against the Islamic centre plans.

Mr Jones is due to travel to New York with Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, who admitted he does not agree with the proposed location.

He said last night: "I will do everything in my power to make sure it is moved."

After angry protests against the planned Koran burning, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Parker, deputy commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) troops in Afghanistan, said friction would increase.

"These sorts of incidents outside Afghanistan are unhelpful to us," he told Sky News.

Thousands of people took to the streets across Afghanistan, some threatening to attack US bases. One protester was shot dead and several were wounded outside a German-run Nato base in north-east Afghanistan. Demonstrations later spread to the capital, Kabul, and at least four other provinces.

Thousands of Muslims gathered at one of western Europe's largest mosques today to condemn the pastor.

Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, world head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, addressed millions of people from a live telecast from the Baitul Futuh Mosque, in Morden, south west London.

He said Mr Jones's plans had spread "hatred" around the world.

"Religious extremism, be it Christian extremism, Muslim extremism, or any other kind is never a true reflection of the religion," he said, before leading Friday prayers attended by an estimated 11,000 people.

Rafiq Hayat, national president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community UK, said: "The way this threat has been used to force a change of plans for the Ground Zero mosque is a sad and disconcerting outcome for not just Muslims but for people of all faiths."

Foreign Secretary William Hague was among those who condemned Mr Jones's plans, as "selfish and provocative in the extreme".

The White House, the Vatican, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus and Tony Blair all urged Mr Jones to call off his protest.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said he "strongly opposed" any attempt to offend members of a religious group and Commons Leader Sir George Young was cheered by MPs as he described the pastor as a "stupid bigot".

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the "unacceptable" stunt would have been "dangerous, destructive and fundamentally wrong".

The pastor's supporters posted copies of the Islamic holy book - which Muslims believe should be treated with the utmost respect - to put on a bonfire in Gainesville to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Mr Jones said it was planned to "send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour".

US President Barack Obama said the pastor's plans were a "recruitment bonanza for al-Qa'ida".

Euro-MPs joined the condemnation during a debate in Strasbourg which emphasised that the protest did not represent Western or Christian views.