- (Photo: AP Photo / Phil Sandlin)
Just hours after canceling “International Burn A Quran Day,” the Florida church behind the controversial event said Thursday it could move forward with its original plan if the deal it thought it struck turns out to be non-existent.
"We have not canceled the burning on Saturday,” said Wayne Sapp, associate pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. “We have suspended it until we get confirmation on the info we were given today.”
Earlier in the day, the church’s head pastor, Terry Jones, told members of the press that he and his church would consider it “a sign from God” to cancel the burning if the group behind the proposed Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center site were to cancel or move its facility to another location.
“The American people do not want the mosque there. And of course Moslems do not want us to burn the Quran,” Jones explained Thursday, tying together the two controversial plans.
That said, the non-denominational preacher reported that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man behind the Park51 project, "has agreed to move the mosque.”
In response, Jones said he and members of his church agreed to cancel Saturday’s burning.
“We are committed to dissolving the situation here and there,” said Imam Muhammad Musri, who reportedly mediated communication between Jones and Rauf's office.
Notably, however, while Jones spoke of an agreement to move the Islamic center, Musri only said during the press conference that there was "a commitment" for a meeting between Jones and Rauf.
Musri said he “made contact” with Rauf’s office earlier that morning and “got a commitment to fly up to New York and meet with him (Rauf) in the company of Pastor Jones to discuss and come to a decision on relocating the mosque in New York.”
Following the press conference, however, Park51, the group behind the proposed Islamic center, refuted reports on the alleged agreement, noting that Rauf “hasn’t” agreed to moving the $100 million, 13-story facility.
“It is untrue that Park51 is being moved,” reported the team behind the Muslim-led project in its official Twitter account.
“The project is moving ahead as planned. What is being reported in the media is false,” it added.
Shortly after, Rauf released his own statement saying he was “glad” that Jones decided not to burn any copies of the Quran. But he also said he has not spoken to Jones or to Musri.
“I am surprised by their announcement,” Rauf reported.
“We are not going to toy with our religion or any other. Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony," he added, effectively taking away what many thought to be the conclusion of a monthslong controversy.
Since the announcement of “International Burn A Quran Day” back in July, countless individuals around the world have called upon Jones to cancel the event, including government officials, Christians leaders across the denominational spectrum, and most recently President Obama, who said earlier in the day that he hopes Jones "listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in."
Though Jones told USA Today he hadn't been contacted directly by the White House, State Department or Pentagon, the Florida pastor said if such a call came, "That would cause us to definitely think it over."
Jones also said his church was taking the concerns of Gen. David Petraeus "very seriously,” though he still vowed to move forward even after hearing remarks from the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.
With just two days before the scheduled burning, the announcement of the event's cancellation Thursday arrived as a relief to many as the plans alone had already incited Muslim protests in various parts of the world.
And, as Musri noted during the press conference, the decision to cancel the burning was made at an opportune time as it was arrived just hours before Muslims around the world begin marking the end of their holy month of Ramadan.
“Hundreds of millions of people would be listening to sermons. And the messages that would have dominated the sermons would have been the burning of the Quran in the United States,” Musri noted.
After questions emerged over the validity of Musri's alleged "contact" with Rauf's office, however, Jones told NBC News that "we are a little back to square one."
"Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision," Jones said. "So as of right now, we are not canceling the event, but we are suspending it."
The burning was originally set to take place Saturday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks that left nearly 3,000 dead and over 6,000 injured.