U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday publicly denounced an American church's plan to burn copies of the Muslim holy book Koran, calling it "a stunt that could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform and incite suicide bombers."
"Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida," Obama said in a taped interview on ABC. "You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan."
Two months before the fall elections in the U.S., when Obama is trying to convince Americans that Democrats are squarely focused on the economy, the last thing he needs is another heated flap about Muslims, churning up lingering doubts about Obama's religious sympathies and his resolve against terrorism.
Slow to weigh in last month on the question of whether an Islamic center should be built in the vicinity of the September 11 World Trade Center attack, Obama's team moved quickly this week to speak out forcefully against plans by a small Florida church to torch copies of the Muslim holy book on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in New York city and Washington.
Pastor Terry Jones has confirmed that he is planning to go ahead with the burning.
The U.S. administration's denunciations had begun with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, and been echoed throughout the top echelons of the government. Defense Secretary Robert Gates seconded Petraeus. Attorney General Eric Holder called it idiotic. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it was disgraceful. Obama adviser David Axelrod went with un-American.
Obama himself held out hope the pastor would rethink his plans. "I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in."
The administration hoped to rein in the story by speaking out clearly and with one voice.
Obama spent Wednesday in Cleveland promoting his economic plans and reaching out to those he acknowledges are frustrated and angry and anxious about the future. He made no reference to the Koran plan in his speech, but addressed the issue when asked about it during the interview taped in Ohio.
Egypt's Islamists demand U.S. envoy's expulsion over Koran burning
The reactions to the planned event were not confined to the U.S. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood also weighed in on the issue, calling the Koran burning "insanity."
"This is insanity, the man is a criminal behaving outside of any religion," Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Mursi told the German news agency DPA.
He compared Jones, the church leader behind the planned event, to a man walking around with a loaded gun threatening to shoot people.
"The greater responsibility for this issue lies with the U.S. government, and with the United Nations," Mursi said.
"We call on all Muslims to put pressure on their governments to expel U.S. ambassadors and to boycott U.S. products until the U.S. government takes action against this heinous crime," he said.
Calling Jones a "lunatic," Mursi said plans to burn the book holiest to Muslims "threatens peace and stability at an international level."
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now