Police have arrested controversial small-time Florida Pastor Terry Jones on the 12th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, as he was en route to burn nearly 3,000 kerosene-doused Qurans at a local park in Polk County, Fla.
Polk County police pulled over Jones, the 66-year-old pastor of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., and his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., as they drove in a pick-up truck to Mulberry's local Loyce Harp Park to burn 2,998 Qurans, meant to represent each of the victims killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks across America. The men were reportedly towing a barbecue-like grill and a truckload of Qurans, doused in kerosene.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said in a press conference Wednesday following Jones' arrest that the two pastors had met at a local McDonald's parking lot, where they proceeded to douse the Qurans in the pick-up truck with kerosene. Additionally, Jones reportedly carried a handgun on his hip, in plain view, while dousing the Qurans at the local food chain. The McDonald's manager complained to the men, who were then pulled over by police after leaving the restaurant parking lot. Jones was charged with unlawfully conveying fuel, a felony, and openly carrying a firearm, a misdemeanor. Sapp was charged with invalid registration for his trailer that hauled the grill and the felony of unlawful conveyance of fuel.
"As he prepared to go to the park to burn the Qurans as he said he was going to do in violation of the law, the next thing he did was opened up a drum, a container, that he towed behind his truck. And then he took kerosene and doused the Qurans in the parking lot of McDonald's," Judd said at a press conference, according to NBC Miami. "The McDonald's manager came and told him to leave. Well, now what he's done is he's taken a flammable liquid from a legal container and put it or poured it into an illegal container."
"He was potentially driving a bomb down the road had there been a crash," Judd added.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, Judd added that authorities had had many conversations with Jones prior to his planned Quran burning, and officials had made it clear to the pastor that he was free to express his First Amendment rights, but if he violated the law he would be arrested and put in jail. Jones had attempted to obtain a permit for Wednesday's planned protest at the local Mulberry park, but he applied too late to receive one in time for the 9/11 anniversary. Once he found out about the timing problem, he reportedly told officials he would hold the protest in the park without a permit, but was clearly informed by the sheriff's office that if he did so it would be a violation of the law and he would be arrested.
The small town of Mulberry, with a population of 3,000, has no connection with Jones, but the pastor's Dove Outreach Center recently moved out of its Gainesville building, and therefore the controversial pastor was looking for a public place to carry out his protest.
Jones has become a highly controversial figure in both America and abroad for his annual Quran burning, when he burns the Muslim holy book to protest Islam, or as he describes it, "the greatest threat to national security." Jones' previous Quran burnings have sparked riots in the Middle East. His 2011 Quran burning prompted massive riots in the Northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-i-Shairf, leaving 16 dead, including seven United Nations workers.
In 2012, Jones promoted the controversial film "Innocence of Muslims," a short, low-budget film that offended the Islamic religion by allegedly mocking the prophet Mohammed. In November 2012, an Egyptian court sentenced Jones, along with seven other Egyptian Christians, to death for his involvment with the film. Jones' absentia conviction was largely seen as symbolic, as he does not live in the country.
Several residents in Mulberry objected the Jones' protest taking place in their small town. About 75 residents gathered for an interfaith service days prior to the September 11 anniversary to object to Jones' actions. This service was led by Texas activist Mike Ghouse, who holds an annual September 11 interfaith service in Texas, but decided to take his peaceful service to Mulberry when he heard of Jones' plans. Additionally, one local resident started the Facebook page "Not In Mulberry Terry Jones" to gather local support against Jones' planned protest.
"Why would you come to little Mulberry that is peaceful and diverse?" said Suzanne Carter-Moore, who started the Facebook page. "We like it that way. Why come to our town and stir up the pot of hate and division?"
Cities across the nation recognized the 12th anniversary of the September 11 attacks yesterday with moments of silence and memorial services. On September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four American jetliners, with three of them crashing into iconic buildings in New York City and Washington, D.C. Two of the jetliners crashed into the World Trade Centers in New York City, and another crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth jetliner crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. when passengers attempted to claim back control of the plane. The terror attack was the largest to occur on U.S. soil in history, killing nearly 3,000 people.