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Don't burn Qurans, U.S. embassy in Pakistan urges church

By the CNN Wire Staff
Terry Jones holds one of the Qurans he plans to burn on September 11, 2010 at his church.
Terry Jones holds one of the Qurans he plans to burn on September 11, 2010 at his church.
  • Planned action is "disrespectful, intolerant and divisive," a top embassy official says
  • The top U.S. general in Afghanistan warned against the plan
  • Pastor Terry Jones hasn't called off the protest, planned for September 11
  • He says Petraeus needs to look at radical Islamists, not at his church
  • Pakistan

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- The U.S. Embassy in Pakistan condemned a Florida church's plan to burn the Quran, the Muslim holy book, as "disrespectful, intolerant and divisive," in a statement on Wednesday.

"We are deeply concerned about all deliberate attempts to offend members of any religious or ethnic group," said Stephen Engelken, the second-ranking diplomat at the embassy.

The statement comes days after the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, warned that the plan could put U.S. troops' lives at risk.

The pastor of the church, Terry Jones, said Tuesday his flock was taking the warning seriously but had not decided to cancel the event, planned for September 11.

Jones told CNN that while his congregation still plans to burn Qurans to protest the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the church is "weighing" its intentions.

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Jones, of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, said the congregation is taking seriously the warning from the U.S. military that the act could cause problems for American troops.

"We have firmly made up our mind, but at the same time, we are definitely praying about it," Jones said on CNN's "American Morning."

Later Tuesday, Jones questioned Petraeus's statement that the burning of Islam's holy books "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.

"The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them," Jones said on CNN's "AC360."

"We are burning the book," Jones said. "We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people."

The planned action has drawn sharp criticism from Muslims around the world and from U.S. officials.

The U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on Tuesday issued a statement saying the U.S. government "in no way condones such acts of disrespect against the religion of Islam, and is deeply concerned about deliberate attempts to offend members of religious or ethnic groups."

It emphasized that it strongly condemned "the offensive messages, which are contrary to U.S. government policy and deeply offensive to Muslims especially during the month of Ramadan."

"Americans from all religious and ethnic backgrounds reject the offensive initiative by this small group in Florida. A great number of American voices are protesting the hurtful statements made by this organization," the Afghanistan embassy said.

With about 120,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops still battling al Qaeda and its allies in the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement, Petraeus warned that burning Qurans "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."

Thousands of Indonesians gathered outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday to protest the planned Quran burning.

"The burning is not only an insult to the holy Quran, but an insult to Islam and Muslims around the world," said Muhammad Ismail, a spokesman for the hard-line Indonesian Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population.

Jones said his congregation is aware that the action is offensive.

"We realize that this action would indeed offend people, offend the Muslims. I am offended when they burn the flag. I am offended when they burn the Bible. But we feel that the message that we are trying to send is much more important than people being offended."

Jones said Muslims are welcomed in the United States, if they observe the Constitution and don't try to impose Sharia, or Muslim law.

The message, he said, is directed toward the "radical element of Islam."

"Our message is very clear," he said. "It is not to the moderate Muslim. Our message is not a message of hate. Our message is a message of warning to the radical element of Islam, and I think what we see right now around the globe provides exactly what we're talking about," he said.

The center says it was founded in 1986 as a "total concept church for the rich, the poor, the young and the old." Its purpose is to "stand up for righteousness and for the truth of the Bible." It stresses that "Christians must return to the truth and stop hiding."

CNN Islamabad bureau chief Samson Desta contributed to this report.