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Despite Centcom request, Jones still plans Quran burning

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Published:   |   Updated: September 11, 2013 at 06:29 AM

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The man who is planning to burn nearly 3,000 Qurans Wednesday in a Polk County park said that even a plea from the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East won’t stop him.

Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III, commander of U.S. Central Command, Monday asked Rev. Terry Jones to rethink his plan to burn the Muslim holy books 5 p.m.Wednesday at Loyce E. Harpe County Park in Mulberry.

“Gen. Austin telephoned Terry Jones yesterday to ask him to reconsider his plans,” according to Air Force Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, a Centcom spokesman. “He relayed to Mr. Jones that he was very concerned that such activity is disrespectful to Muslims and needlessly puts innocent civilians and US military members in the Centcom area of responsibility at greater risk.”

Jones’ 15-member Dove World Outreach Center church in Gainesville sparked Muslim ire around the globe in 2010 when he burned a copy of the Islamic holy book on the lawn of his Gainesville church, He did that despite pleas from top U.S. military leaders and then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though he did back off on plans to burn more. And, despite Austin’s call, he says he is going to burn 2,998 Qurans Wednesday — one for each victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, jihadist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

Austin “asked if we were going to do it, and I told him we were,” said Jones. “He expressed concerns that our activity could cause some type of an uproar in Afghanistan.”

Violent outrage over the burning of the holy books is not unprecedented, even for situations that are inadvertent. Last year, more than two dozen people were killed and scores injured in Afghanistan and Pakistan — including U.S. troops — after U.S. military personnel mistakenly disposed of Qurans outside Bagram Air Base by burning.

“Of course, that is not without a thought of ours,” Jones said about the potential for a violent reaction to his efforts. “It could possibly happen. Radical Islam could respond. They make a lot of threats, a lot of threats they do not go with and they do make threats they do go through with.”

Jones said because he is trying to “draw attention to people being persecuted, killed and massacred for the last 1,400 years by radical Islam,” he would not feel like he had “blood on my hands” if the book burning sparks deadly violence.

“I understand the concerns of the military,” said Jones, “Like I told (Austin), our military is made up of volunteers. The U.S. military is the best-financed, best-equipped, best-trained in the history of the world. It’s not that we are not concerned about them, but the people being killed and massacred every day have no one to speak up for them. They are not trained. They are not financed. No disrespect meant, but people are trying to stand up.”

The concerns may be moot.

Jones originally intended to burn the books on private property in Mulberry, but said the owner changed his mind under pressure, so he said he opted for a nearby public park. Any event on a public park requires permits which he has not secured and county officials stand ready to block the event as a result, said Mianne Nelson, spokeswoman for the Polk County Commission.

Jones said he is prepared to face arrest.

“It is definitely still on,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

haltman@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7629

@haltman

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