GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Terry Jones, the Florida minister who set the world on edge with plans to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11, said Thursday that he had canceled his demonstration because he had won a promise to move the mosque near ground zero to a new location.
But hours later, upon hearing from the project’s leaders in New York that no such deal existed, Jones backed away from his promise and said the bonfire of sacred texts was simply “suspended.”
The sudden back and forth suggested that the controversy he started — drawing pointed criticisms from President Barack Obama and an array of leaders, officials and celebrities in the United States and abroad — was not yet finished even after multiple appearances before the news media on the lawn of his small church. Jones seemed to be struggling with how to save face and hold onto the spotlight he has attracted for an act that could make him a widely reviled figure.
But Jones seemed to have been wrong or misled from the start.
Minutes after he announced the cancellation alongside Imam Muhammad Musri, a well-known Islamic leader in Florida who had been trying to broker a deal, Musri contradicted Jones’ account. He said that Muslim leaders of the project in New York had not actually agreed to find a new location. “The imam committed to meet with us but did not commit to moving the mosque yet,” Musri said.
Even that may not be accurate. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in a statement that he had not spoken to Jones or Musri, who said later that he received the pledge of a meeting from a staffer in Abdul Rauf’s office.
The saga of Jones appears likely to continue — with more pressure likely to come as well.
In just the past week, the list of his critics had grown to include Obama, the Vatican, Franklin Graham, Angelina Jolie, Sarah Palin, dozens of members of Congress, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, who was among the first to declare that the burning of Qurans would put American soldiers and civilians in danger.
That risk of violence seemed to be rising, as large protests against Jones were staged over the past week in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Jakarta, Indonesia. It led the Obama administration to work furiously to end Jones’ plans.
On Thursday, FBI officials met with Jones and even Obama waded into the fray, sharply criticizing what he called a “stunt” that would be a “recruitment bonanza for al-Qaida.”
“I just hope he understands that what he’s proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans,” Obama said on “Good Morning America.”