Kabul: India led calls on Thursday for the US to intervene to halt a small church’s plan to burn copies of the Koran in commemoration of the 11 September attacks and urged a media blackout to calm tensions.
The pastor of the obscure Christian church in the southern US state of Florida has vowed to go ahead with the plan despite global outrage and warnings his action could endanger US troops in Afghanistan, where there have already been angry protests.
US President Barack Obama warned the burning would be a “recruitment bonanza” for Al Qaeda, the Islamist group which carried out the 11 September airliner attacks on the US.
“You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities,” Obama told ABC’s “Good Morning America”.
The US government and military and political and religious leaders from around the world have condemned the plan by pastor Terry Jones, whose tiny Protestant church campaigns against what it calls “radical Islam”.
The ninth anniversary of the 11 September attacks coincides with celebrations for the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The Koran-burning plan has added to what US religious leaders have called an “anti-Muslim frenzy”.
Home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said no one who was interested in “harmony and peace” could condone the plan.
“We hope that the US authorities will take strong action to prevent such an outrage being committed,” Chidambaram said in a statement, calling on the media to exercise restraint.
“While we await the action of the US authorities, we would appeal to the media in India -- both print and visual media -- to refrain from telecasting visuals or publishing photographs of the deplorable act,” he said.
Risk of reprisals
Two of the top US commanders in Afghanistan have said the Dove World Outreach Center plan risked undermining President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. General David Petraeus, commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan, said it could endanger his troops.
The Convocation of American Churches in Europe also said Christians living in majority Muslim countries would also be at risk of reprisals.
In the US, an FBI intelligence bulletin dated 19 August said the Koran-burning may inspire “retaliatory attacks against US facilities overseas”.
Streets were quiet in the Afghan capital on Thursday as Eid al-Fitr celebrations approached, but police have been put on alert after angry demonstrations earlier this week when hundreds of Afghans, mostly students from religious schools, gathered outside a Kabul mosque chanting “Death to America”.
Such protests have turned violent in Afghanistan several times in the past few years, with dozens killed as security forces fought to regain control.
One of those protests was sparked when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2005.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke of the importance of freedom of speech at a ceremony for the Dane whose cartoon provoked protests that led to 50 deaths. Her tribute drew criticism from some Muslims in Germany.
A British Muslim member of the European Parliament urged restraint if Jones went ahead with the plan. “Muslims globally must know that, through this Koran burning, this man will achieve nothing,” said MEP Sajjad Karim.
Nigerian President Goodluck expressed similar sentiments in a post on his Facebook page.
Pakistan “urged the international community to discourage this fanatic approach and take steps to stop these fundamentalists”, a foreign office spokesman said.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, leader of the world’s most populous Muslim nation, was to ask Obama to intervene, an aide said on Thursday.
“President Yudhoyono thinks that if this was allowed to happen, it will disturb world peace,” Heru Lelono said.