x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Imam fears moving Park51 could inflame tension

The imam behind the proposed Islamic centre near Ground Zero says moving it could cause a violent backlash.

The imam behind a proposed Islamic community centre and mosque near Ground Zero in New York says moving it could cause a violent backlash from Muslim extremists and endanger national security. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf says the discourse surrounding the planned facility called Park51, originally named Cordoba House, has become so politicised that moving it could result in violence. He says the reaction in the Muslim world could be more furious than the eruption of violence following the 2005 publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Rauf made the comments in an interview broadcast Wednesday night on CNN. Opponents say the mosque should be moved further away from where Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people. Supporters say religious freedom should be protected. Meanwhile a small Florida church has shrugged off global outrage and vowed to go ahead with a Quran burning ceremony amid growing fears it will ignite a wave of Islamic rage.

Condemnation rained in from top US officials, the military, the Vatican and other religious leaders, but the church refused to halt plans to torch the Islamic holy book on Saturday's anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks. "As of this time we have no intention of cancelling," Pastor Terry Jones told a press conference, adding his evangelical church, the Dove World Outreach Center, had received numerous messages of support.

Mr Jones had indicated he was praying for guidance on whether to go ahead with the incendiary event after warnings from US Afghanistan commander Gen David Petraeus that US and allied troops could be targeted in revenge. "We understand the general's concerns and we are still considering it," Mr Jones said, but swiftly added he had been contacted by a special forces soldier who told him "the people in the field are 100 per cent behind us."

The gun-toting pastor, who has received death threats, says the aim of Saturday's three-hour evening event is to send a message to radical Islamists that they must abide by the US Constitution. "Our burning of the Quran is to call attention that something's wrong. And it is possibly time for us in a new way to actually stand up and confront terrorism," he said. The US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has denounced the Florida church's plans as "disgraceful," and the State Department has sought to downplay an event likely to be shown on television screens around the world.

"We hope that the world will appreciate that this is the action of a very small fringe group and does not represent the views of the United States or Americans as a whole," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. Officials in the small university town of Gainesville - reluctantly dragged into the global spotlight - met yesterday to draw up contingency plans. City spokesman Bob Woods said that church officials would be violating a ban on open-air burning and would be subject to a US$250 fine, if they set fire to the books.

But there is little they can do to stop the event from going ahead, protected as it is by the First Amendment of the US Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech. * Agencies