Following his arrest on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, controversial, small-time pastor Terry Jones has said he believes he was set up by police officers, arguing they knew he was going to burn Qurans at a local park in Mulberry, Fla.
Jones said in an interview following his arrest on Wednesday that prior to his planned Quran burning, he had met with three police officers, including two from Polk County and one from Manatee County, as well as an FBI special agent on Sept. 7. During the meeting, Jones claims to have told the officials of his plans to burn nearly 3,000 Qurans on the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"We told them at the time we would be soaking the Qurans in kerosene and would be driving them down there," Jones told U.S. News & World Report on Friday. "We had no idea that was against the law. They were aware of what we were going to do."
"Even the guy who ended up handcuffing us and arresting us was [at the Sept. 7 meeting]," Jones claimed. "They knew what we were doing, what route we were taking. I've been a pastor all my life and maybe I'm a little naive, I thought they were going to help us."
Jones, pastor of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., was arrested on Wednesday along with his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., as they drove a pick-up truck to the local Loyce Harp Park to burn 2,998 Qurans, meant to represent the total number of fatalities in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S. The pastors were carrying nearly 3,000 Qurans in the back of their pick-up truck and hauling a rented barbecue grill.
Before heading to the park, the two met in a local McDonald's parking lot where they proceeded to pour kerosene on the Qurans stockpiled in the back of the truck. Jones also reportedly had a firearm in plain sight. After receiving a complaint from the McDonald's manager regarding their use of kerosene in the restaurant parking lot, the two proceeded to drive to the park, where they were pulled over for a traffic stop.
Jones was arrested for a felony charge of unlawfully conveying fuel and a misdemeanor charge for openly carrying a firearm. Sapp was also charged with a felony for unlawfully handling fuel as well as a lesser charge for lacking valid registration on his trailer.
Polk County Sherriff Grady Judd said in a press conference following Jones' arrest that he had met with the pastor prior to the planned Quran burning and had notified Jones that although he was allowed to express his First Amendment rights, he would be arrested if he violated the law in any way. Jones had waited too long to apply for a permit to hold a demonstration at the local park, and when he found out that he had submitted it too late, Jones reportedly informed authorities that he would carry on with the protest without a permit.
"My detectives had many conversations with Terry Jones prior to today," Judd said Wednesday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "He was told he was welcome to come to Polk County and express his First Amendment rights. However, if he violated the law, he would absolutely be arrested and placed in the county jail."
"On Sept. 11, he arrived in Polk County, violated the law, and our detectives arrested him and booked him into the county jail just as he was informed," Judd added.
Jones also claims that he was not read his Miranda rights when he was arrested on Wednesday, a claim that may be able to be verified from video footage taken by local media outlets at the scene of Jones' arrest. The pastor has no connection to the small town of Mulberry, where he tried to stage his Quran protest, but his Dove Outreach Center had recently left its building in Gainesville, Fla. and he reportedly needed a public place to carry out his protest.
Jones holds an annual protest against the Muslim religion on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, when in 2001, al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked and crashed four jetliners along the east coast of the United States. Jones first attempted his protest in 2010, but international pressure caused the pastor to cancel the event, although riots still broke out in the Middle East and Asia, resulting in multiple deaths. In 2011, Jones did burn a Quran, resulting in large protests in northern Afghanistan that left seven U.N. workers dead.
Riots also broke out in the Middle East after Jones promoted the low-budget film "Innocence of Muslims" in 2012. The film insulted Muslims because it reportedly mocked the prophet Mohammed. A court in Egypt then sentenced Jones to death for his involvement in the film's promotion, although this conviction was seen as largely symbolic because he does not live in the country.