NEW YORK (WPIX)—The Islamic center near Ground Zero and the threat by a Florida pastor to burn Qurans on September 11th had been separate stories, but in a remarkable turn of events, the two converge in a story that keeps adding chapters that in some ways seem more and more unbelievable.
Despite the requests of September 11th victims' families that nobody politicize the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, on Saturday after the memorial ceremony ends, two different rallies will take place. One will be in favor and one will oppose the proposed Islamic center, and they'll be on either end of the block where the center has been approved to be built.
That's the newest development in a story that has more twists and turns than a rural road winding from a tiny Florida church to Lower Manhattan, and both of those locations figure in prominently to the story as it unfolds.
Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove Outreach Center Church in Gainesville, Florida had said for weeks that his congregation of fewer than fifty people would burn copies of the Quran on Saturday reversed course on Thursday, and cited changes in the status of the Lower Manhattan Islamic center as the reason.
"The iman has agreed to move the mosque," Rev. Jones said in a newsconference, incorrectly stating the title of the Islamic center's spiritual leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. "We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday," Jones continued, "and on Saturday I will be flying up there to meet with him."
Jones made the announcement after FBI agents met with him Thursday and Defense Secretary Robert Gates also called him to talk about the safety risks his anti-Islamic protest posed to his congregation, to military personnel overseas and to others.
Rev. Jones also met with an imam based in Florida, Muhammed Musri, who claimed to have connections with the so-called Ground Zero Islamic center.
"I promised to arrange for a meeting for both of us to go to New York and meet with the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf."
For his part, Rauf said through his publicist that he had not been contacted by either Reverend Jones or Imam Musri, and that the Islamic center was going ahead as scheduled, and that no meeting had been arranged with Jones or Musri.
That refutation sparked Rev. Jones to revise his stance on the Quran burning protest. He said Thursday night that he had witnesses who had heard his conversation regarding Imam Rauf's promise to relocate the Islamic center. "The iman (sic) there in New York said they would move the mosque," Jones said, but added that, "as for right now we have put a temporary hold on our planned event."
On Friday, both Rev. Jones and Imam Musri were still in Florida, but said they intended to come to New York soon and meet with Imam Rauf about relocating the Islamic center. When or whether that will be is still unclear.
Meanwhile, another church came forward Friday to say that if Rev. Jones and his church would not burn Qurans, it would. The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka Kansas, which has gained notoriety for its members showing up at military heroes' funerals bearing signs reading "God Hates..." followed by an epithet for gays.
Westboro Baptist's pastor, Fred Phelps, said on the church's website that it would do what the "false prophet" Rev. Jones would not, and would ignite Qurans in protest on September 11th. The church has burned Qurans in the past to very little notice.
Also, Donald Trump tried to inject himself into the story by offering to buy the Islamic center site for a reported 25 percent higher price than the $4.8 million financier Hisham Elzanaty had paid, on the condition that the center be located at least five blocks farther away from its current site, which has been approved by the city. However, Elzanaty has said he has had offers of more than $20 million, and that the Islamic center project is going ahead.