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Petraeus: Burning Koran Puts American Lives 'in Jeopardy'

  • Petraeus Greets Gates in Kabul

    Sept. 2: Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, is greeted by top NATO commander Gen. David Petraeus as he arrives in Kabul. (AFP)

  • afghan_protest_090610

    Sept. 6: Afghans burn an effigy of Dove World Outreach Center's pastor Terry Jones during a demonstration against the U.S. in Kabul. (AP)

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Tuesday a Florida church's threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide.

"Images of the burning of a Koran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence ," Gen. David Petraeus said. "Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult."

His comments followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center -- a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy -- to burn copies of the Koran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Petraeus warned images of burning Korans could be used to incite anti-American sentiment similar to the pictures of prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Graib prison.

"I am very concerned by the potential repercussions of the possible (Koran) burning. Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday," Petraeus said

On Monday, Petraeus said he was concerned that the protests could spread across the country.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan. It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community," he said in a statement provided to Fox News. 

Though the Dove World Outreach Center has been denied a permit to hold a bonfire, the Koran burning is still scheduled to proceed on Saturday. The burning -- set to mark nine years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- follows a campaign last year in which the 50-member church distributed T-shirts that said "Islam is of the Devil."

In a blog on the church's website, writer Fran Ingram offered the groups’ reasoning for burning the Koran, arguing that it is not God's word and denies Jesus is the son of God, that Islam is totalitarian and that the religion teaches idolatry, paganism, rites and rituals. 

"We are using this act to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful. We do not hate any people, however. We love, as God loves, all the people in the world and we want them to come to a knowledge of the truth," the blog reads.

Other writings by the same blogger include headlines like "Islam is Cursed by Cursing Israel" and "The Koran: A Sorcerer's Scroll."

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul issued a statement condemning the church's plans, saying Washington was "deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."

The National Association of Evangelicals and the National Council of Churches also denounced the plan to burn the Koran.

But outside the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Monday, where as many as 500 protestors chanted "Long live Islam" and "Death to America," demonstrators argued that the church isn't acting of its own will.

"We know this is not just the decision of a church. It is the decision of the president and the entire United States," said Abdul Shakoor, an 18-year-old high school student who said he joined the protest after hearing neighborhood gossip about the Koran burning.

Burning a Koran is considered by Muslims among the most offensive actions taken against Islam. In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging that interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Koran in washrooms and had flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.

Fox News' Mike Emanuel and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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