Qur’an-burning ‘disaster’ averted, says New York imam

Feisal Abdul Rauf says he intends to go ahead with Islamic centre near Ground Zero and decries anti-Muslim attacks

The New York imam at the centre of plans to build an Islamic centre near Ground Zero said today that “disaster” had been narrowly averted over the planned burning of copies of the Qur’an by a Florida pastor.

In his first comments since the row escalated into a national and international crisis, Feisal Abdul Rauf said the act could have provoked fresh terrorist attacks against the US.

After a series of conflicting and confusing statements over the previous 48 hours, Pastor Terry Jones finally confirmed yesterday that he was not going ahead with his plan, “not today, not ever”.

But some damage had been done and thousands of protesters took to the streets in Afghanistan today for the third day in a row. Three were shot, one of them seriously, amid threats to storm US military bases.

In an interview with ABC, Rauf said Jones’s planned burning “would have strengthened the radicals. It would have enhanced the possibility of terrorist acts against America and American interests.”

He said he intended to go ahead with the centre, and expressed concern about a rise in anti-Muslim feeling across the US. “How else would you describe the fact that mosques around the country are now being attacked?” Rauf said.

The imam did not meet Jones, who flew to New York from Florida on Friday. Jones, in an apparent face-saving exercise, claimed he had abandoned his burning ceremony because Rauf had agreed to meet him and to move the location of his centre. Rauf denied the claims.

Remembrance ceremonies for 9/11 had until this weekend been marked mainly by shows of unity. But the divisions over the planned Islamic centre have heightened tensions.