Gen. David Petraeus added his voice to mounting protests from both the US and abroad over the Dove World Outreach Center's plans to burn Korans on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks. His comments ratcheted up the pressure on once-obscure pastor Terry Jones to call off the event.
The controversy comes as some 120,000 US and allied troops are waging a counterinsurgency campaign against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a campaign whose goals include winning support for the US-backed government from the largely Muslim population.
Petraeus said that burning Korans "is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems – not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," according to CNN.
"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said in a statement issued Monday ...
"Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday," he said. "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."
Mr. Jones, the pastor of the center in Gainesville, Fla., has touted the activity as "International Burn the Koran Day." Jones also authored a book titled "Islam is of the Devil," which has a Facebook page and Twitter account.
In remarks published by Florida radio station WOKV on Tuesday morning, Jones insisted he would not be deterred.
"We think the message is that important," said Pastor Terry Jones. "We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won't make Islam any more moderate" said Jones.
More than 1,000 people have already signed a US-launched online petition against the planned Koran-burning, according to a letter published in the Gainesville Sun. The letter was one of many posted by the Sun opposing the pastor's plans. The link to the petition was not active as of Tuesday morning East Coast time.
Even an armed Christian militia called "Right Wing Extreme" has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today.
Meanwhile, readers posting at the "Right Wing Extreme" forum argued bitterly over the event. "This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas," wrote one who identified himself as "Kevin."
Jones told The New York Times in an interview last month that he had a right to burn the Koran because "it's full of lies." He disagreed that the activity could put US troops in danger and said his church had received death threats.
“We have to be careful,” he said. He tapped a holster on the right hip of his jean shorts; it held a .40-caliber pistol, which he said he was licensed to carry. “The overall response,” he added, “has been much greater than we expected.”
Mr. Jones who seems to spend much of his time inside a dank, dark office with a poster from the movie “Braveheart” and a picture of former President George W. Bush, appears to be largely oblivious to the potential consequences of his plans. Speaking in short sentences with a matter-of-fact drawl, he said that he could not understand why other Christians, including the nation’s largest evangelical association, had called for him to cancel “International Burn a Koran Day.”