MULBERRY, Fla. – Law enforcement officers arrested a Florida pastor Wednesday as he drove to a park to light nearly 3,000 Korans on fire to protest the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Polk County sheriff's deputies arrested Pastor Terry Jones, 61, and his associate pastor, Marvin Sapp Jr., 44, each on a felony charge of unlawful conveyance of fuel as they travelled in a pickup truck towing a large barbecue-style grill filled with Korans soaked in kerosene.
Jones had said he was heading to a nearby park to burn 2,998 Korans -- one for every victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Sheriff's officials said Wednesday night that Jones was also charged with unlawful open-carry of a firearm, a misdemeanor, and that Sapp faces a charge of having no valid registration for the trailer.
Both were being booked Wednesday night into the Polk County jail, according to Sheriff Grady Judd.
Mulberry's mayor, along with area elected officials, a sheriff's deputy and several Polk County residents have talked about the need to express love and tolerance for all faiths on Sept. 11.
Jones is the pastor of a small evangelical Christian church. He first gained attention in 2010 when he planned to burn a Koran on the anniversary of 9/11, although he eventually called it off. His congregation did burn the Muslim holy book in March 2011 and last year he promoted an anti-Muslim film. All three incidents sparked violence in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The most violent protest happened after the 2011 Koran burning as hundreds of protesters stormed a U.N. compound in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, killing seven foreigners, including four Nepalese guards.
Jones has repeatedly ignored pleas from the U.S. military asking him not to stage his protests. Military officials say his actions put American and Western troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere in danger.
Mulberry is a town of about 3,000 between Orlando and Tampa and has no connection to Jones' church, which recently moved out of its Gainesville building.
An Egyptian court convicted Jones, along with seven Egyptian Coptic Christians, in absentia, sentencing them to death on charges linked to the film. The ruling was seen as largely symbolic because Jones and the other defendants live outside of Egypt.
Just last week, a federal judge in Michigan issued a summary judgment in favor of Jones and his organization, Stand Up America Now, against the city of Dearborn for requiring Jones and his organization to sign a city-issued agreement in order to speak on public property in front of a Dearborn mosque in 2012.
Earlier Wednesday, about 75 people gathered In Mulberry for an interfaith prayer service to counter Jones' actions.
Mike Ghouse, who has organized a 9/11 prayer service in his home state of Texas for nine years, brought his event to Mulberry because of Jones' planned Koran burning. He initially had planned to hold the service in Texas but teamed with a group of Mulberry residents who had organized an anti-Jones Facebook page.
"Everyone has a right to believe what they believe," said Ghouse, adding that it was Jones' right as an American to express himself. Others said that while Jones was free to say or do whatever he wanted, the people of Mulberry didn't want the world to think that the residents condone or agree with Jones' views.
Said Polk County resident Butch Rahman: "We don't buy what Jones is selling."