The Florida pastor who threatened to burn Korans to mark 9/11 and in the process became the center of a domestic and global maelstrom said Saturday morning that he had definitively canceled the book burning because he had accomplished his mission of revealing Islam to harbor dangerous elements.
"Not today, not ever. We are not going to go back and do it" -- burn the Koran. "It is totally canceled," Pastor Terry Jones told NBC's "Today" show.
Jones had traveled to New York late Friday night following several days of often bizarre brinkmanship as he suddenly made moving the controversy-plagued Islamic center planned near Ground Zero a condition of his canceling the Koran-burning ritual, which was originally set for 6 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of his small, fundamentalist Gainesville church.
Jones told NBC (video here
) that he came to New York hoping to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the Cordoba Initiative that is planning to build the center, but had no meeting scheduled.
He said that while he hoped to meet Rauf and convince him to move the mosque, he felt his threats to burn some 200 copies of the Koran had fulfilled his goal and that God was telling him to stand down.
"We feel when we started this out that one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element in Islam that is very dangerous and very radical," Jones said. "I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission."
Jones said the fact that he has received more than 100 death threats without yet burning a Koran, Islam's sacred text, was proof of his views.
Appearing just an hour before the city and the nation would mark the moment nine years ago when the first plane hit the tower at the World Trade Center, Jones -- pastor of a Pentecostal-style 50-member church called the Dove World Outreach Center -- paused dramatically when he was asked directly if the Koran-burning was off. He sighed heavily, and after a moment said it was canceled and would never happen.
Jones also again compared his actions
to the biblical story of Abraham, whom God told to sacrifice his son Isaac on a mountaintop. Abraham was set to do the deed when an angel stayed his hand, and God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. Jones said he "was also called to do something crazy," and now God at the last moment indicated he should hold off.
"Of course, Abraham was much wiser than us -- he told no one," Jones said.
Jones and his church had drawn international condemnation and domestic pressure to stop his "stunt" (in President Obama's words) from military
, political and religious leaders, from the Pentagon to the Vatican, from Jones' fellow Pentecostals to pundits and pols like Sarah Palin
and Glenn Beck.
In recent days Jones for the first time raised the prospect of halting his plans if the Islamic center in New York would be moved. Controversy over the center, often referred to as the Ground Zero mosque -- it is planned as a Muslim-sponsored interfaith community center several blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks -- is widely seen as having primed public attention so that Jones, while a fringe figure, could become the focus of global attention and condemnation with his plans to burn the Koran.
Jones said Saturday he hoped his "first step" in canceling the book burning would open the door to dialogue with Rauf and leaders of the Islamic center project. Rauf has said he is willing to meet anyone of goodwill, and Jones said negotiations were ongoing.
Jones categorically denied that his plan, which he first announced in July as "International Burn a Koran day," was a publicity stunt to draw attention to himself and his church.
Jones, author of a book called "Islam Is of the Devil," was accompanied to the "Today" show interview by his assistant pastor, Wayne Sapp. When asked his views of Islam, Sapp offered a somewhat more nuanced view than the men have expressed previously, going so far as to compare radical elements of Islam to radical elements in Christianity.
"As there are in denominations in Christianity as well, I believe there are facets in Islam as well that push one element more than others," Sapp said. "But that element is alive and well throughout the entire religion."