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Terry Jones plans to burn Qurans in Mulberry on Sept. 11

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Published:   |   Updated: July 25, 2013 at 06:03 PM

TAMPA - Terry Jones, the firebrand preacher from Gainesville who has staged an unapologetic and unrelenting crusade against radical Islam, has chosen the Polk County community of Mulberry as the site where he will torch 2,998 Qurans - one for each victim in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

The event is planned for the 12th anniversary of the day when jetliners were flown by terrorists into the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and a pasture in Pennsylvania.

For a while, Jones had said the Quran burning would be in Tampa somewhere, but never revealed a location. Last week, his ministry announced that a Polk County man sympathetic to his cause had offered up his property on Laurel Crest Court in the Pineview Estates mobile home park.

Bill McKinney is the property owner. A telephone number for McKinney provided by Jones was not in service.

"Actually, the site picked us," said Jones in an interview this week. "We were on the lookout, looking around at different possibilities and we got an email asking if we had gotten a location and he volunteered to have it on his property."

Jones said he told McKinney, whom he had never met, that there may be trouble for him like threats, problems at work and with neighbors, but McKinney stuck by his offer.

"We explained all this to him and he seemed very convinced to do this on his property," Jones said. "He wanted to stand with us to raise awareness concerning Islam."

He said he doesn't how many people will attend but estimated it may reach a couple hundred.

Jones said gathering up nearly 3,000 Qurans has been the main challenge.

"We don't have them all yet," he said. He's taking donations and buying in bulk, although when some book sellers find out where the religious texts are going and what will happen to them, "they refuse to sell to us."

Burning that many books could create quite a fire.

Polk County Fire Rescue spokesman Brad Ruhman said he had not heard about the planned Quran burning but doesn't believe any burn permits would be required.

"We do require people to pull burn permits for agricultural purposes," Ruhman said, "like land-clearing or burning citrus trees, and those permits are issued through the Florida forestry division. People don't pull permits from us. The only time we restrict burns is when there is a county burn ban in place because of dry weather."

Ruhman added, "There are no local resolutions or ordinances that prohibit the burning," so no permits are required.

Polk County sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Eleazer said her department had not been contacted by Jones about the event.

"It is our understanding that this is being done on private property," Eleazer said. "We've had citizens calling in to let us know about it, but we haven't had any specific requests from Rev. Jones."

Jones has fueled the ire of Muslims in the United States and abroad over his rhetoric. His first Quran burning three years ago drew the attention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who along with military leaders urged Jones not to go through with the stunt because it would cause unrest and endanger U.S. service members across Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Jones relented and only torched one Quran. Since then, he has held mock trials with the Quran and the Muslim prophet Muhammad as defendants and found them guilty of various crimes.

Last year, he voiced support for an anti-Muslim film and in an Egyptian court, he was sentenced in absentia to death. Jones has written a book titled, "Islam is of the Devil," and sells T-shirts espousing the message.

Earlier this year, Jones sold his 20-acre Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville and announced he was moving his 15-member congregation to the Tampa area - home to some 50,000 Muslims - sometime this fall.

Local Muslims shrugged when asked about Jones' Quran burning.

"We are not paying any attention to Terry Jones," said Hassan Shibly, executive director with the Council for American-Islamic Relations in Tampa. "He is a non factor for us."

kmorelli@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7760

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