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NATO chief condemns US church's plans to burn Koran

The head of NATO today condemned a small Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks, saying it was disrespectful and could endanger Western troops.

world Updated: Sep 07, 2010 21:15 IST

The head of NATO on Tuesday condemned a small Florida church's plan to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks, saying it was disrespectful and could endanger Western troops.

The Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center church plans to go ahead with the torching of the Koran on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 2001 attacks against the United States by the militant Islamist group al Qaeda. The church's plans have been the subject of an angry protest in Afghanistan on Monday and condemned by top US military commanders there.

"I strongly condemn that ... I think such actions are in a strong contradiction with all of the values we stand for and fight for," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Washington.

US Army General David Petraeus, the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, and Lieutenant General William Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, also have spoken out against the church's plans.

They said it could undermine US President Barack Obama's efforts to reach out to the world's 1.5 billion Muslims and trigger retaliation against US forces in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen, speaking to reporters ahead of a meeting with Obama, said, "Of course, there is a risk it may also have a negative impact on the security for our troops."

The Dove World Outreach Center, calling itself a "New Testament, Charismatic, Non-Denominational Church," says on its website says it seeks to "expose Islam" as a "violent and oppressive religion." It displays a sign reading "Islam of the Devil."

Asked about proceeding with the protest despite concerns about US military personnel, the church's pastor, Terry Jones, told CNN: "We are actually very, very concerned, of course, and we are taking the general's words very seriously ... We are definitely praying about it. We have firmly made up our mind but at the same time we are definitely praying about it."

Pentagon spokesman Col Dave Lapan acknowledged any backlash potentially could have implications beyond Afghanistan for US troops but said he had not seen concerns expressed by US commanders elsewhere.

The US Embassy in Kabul has publicly denounced the planned event.

Last January, Afghan troops shot and killed eight demonstrators and wounded 13 in southern Helmand province in a riot triggered by a report that foreign troops had desecrated the Koran during a raid. A spokesman for NATO forces denied the report.