Obama warns against Koran burning


US president Barack Obama today warned that a Florida pastor's plan to burn copies of the Koran is being used as an al-Qaeda recruitment tool and he urged the minister to reconsider the decision.

"This is a recruitment bonanza for al-Qaeda," Mr Obama said in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America program.

"You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities," he said.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair also issued a plea to the evangelist not to go ahead with his plan to burn copies of the Koran on September 11th.

Mr Blair added his voice to those of the White House, the Vatican, the commander of international forces in Afghanistan General David Petraeus and film star Angelina Jolie, who all urged pastor Terry Jones to call off his protest.

But the pastor, who leads a tiny Florida church, insisted he would stage “International Burn-a-Koran Day” on Saturday, despite receiving more than 100 death threats.

It was reported that Anjem Choudary, former leader of the banned Islamist organisation Islam4UK, is calling on radical Muslim groups around the world to burn American flags outside US embassies in retaliation.

The US state department today warned Americans overseas to be alert for any anti-US demonstrations. "The potential for further protests and demonstrations, some of which may turn violent, remains high," it said in a travel alert, urging US citizens to avoid areas where protests might occur.

The pastor’s supporters have been mailing copies of the Islamic holy book, which Muslims believe should be treated with the utmost respect, to put on the bonfire at his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville to mark the ninth anniversary of the September 11th attacks. The church has less than 50 members.

“Instead of us backing down, maybe it’s time to stand up," the pastor said. "Maybe it’s time to send a message to radical Islam that we will not tolerate their behaviour.”

In a statement, Mr Blair, who founded a Faith Foundation after leaving office to promote understanding between the world’s religions, said he "deplore" the act of burning the Koran.

“It is disrespectful, wrong and will be widely condemned by people of all faiths and none. In no way does this represent the view of any sensible person in the West or any other part of the world," he said. “Those who wish to cause religious conflict are small in number but often manage to dominate the headlines.

“You do not have to be a Muslim to share a sense of deep concern at such a disrespectful way to treat the Holy Book of Islam," he said. "Rather than burn the Koran, I would encourage people to read it.”