No deal to move mosque away from Ground Zero, backers say
On the eve of the most solemn day in New York, the flap over the mosque near Ground Zero couldn’t be messier.
The Florida pastor who was threatening to burn 200 Qurans on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 dropped his plan, claiming he had a deal with the mosque’s imam to move the cultural center away from the World Trade Center.
But that was apparently news to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who said the mosque was staying put. After the imam’s statement, however, the Rev. Terry Jones reportedly spoke out again, this time claiming the burning was only suspended, not canceled.
The imam had insisted he never spoke with Jones.
"We are not going to toy with our religion or any other," Rauf said in a statement. "Nor are we going to barter. We are here to extend our hands to build peace and harmony."
Adding to Thursday’s drama was an offer by Donald Trump to buy the community center site at Park Place for $6 million in exchange for the mosque moving at least five blocks farther away. The offer was reportedly rejected as a “cheap” stunt.
Mayor Bloomberg's office had no comment on a potential community center compromise. The mayor said this week that while burning the Quran is "distasteful," the act itself is protected under First Amendment rights.
Thursday, pressure built from all quarters for Jones to back down and for the community center to be moved. Among the events:
President Barack Obama, a guest on ABC's Good Morning America, predicted Jones' stunt would be a "recruitment bonanza" for al-Qaida.
A pastor in Springfield, Tenn., announced that he, too, will torch a Quran on Saturday - and post a video of the book burning online.
While polls show most Americans are against the proposed community center’s proximity to Ground Zero, New Yorkers were sickened with Jones' tactics.
"He's basically blackmailing that imam," said Pat Markum, 31, of Crown Heights. "It's disgusting. You can't just threaten (with) these extreme actions to get what you want."
"He's opening up a Pandora's box by doing this," added Peter Grant, 45, of the Bronx. "All the radicals will follow his path."
(with Tim Herrera, Sheila Anne Feeney, Karen Keller and AP)