ORLANDO, Fla. -- The pastor of a tiny Gainesville, Fla., church refused to heed pleas Tuesday from Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and religious leaders to abandon plans to mark Saturday's anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a bonfire fueled by 200 copies of the Quran, the Islamic holy book.
Known for his fiery anti-Islam diatribes, Pastor Terry Jones, of the 50-member Dove World Center Outreach, said he was praying over his decision, though other church members said they believed the burning would be destroying evil.
"What we're trying to do is get people to wake up to what Islam is," said Fran Ingram, a member of Dove World Center Outreach who posted "Ten Reasons to Burn a Koran" on a church-sponsored blog. "We're acting in obedience to God."
Ingram added: "As far as we know we're going for it."
Petraeus warned in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan -- and around the world -- to inflame public opinion and incite violence." He said the book burning would imperil U.S. soldiers and civilians and the war effort in the Islamic nation.
Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe issued a public statement condemning the church's plan, describing it as "a tiny fringe group and an embarrassment to our community."
Muslims consider the Quran, sometimes called the Koran, to be the final word of God and insist that it be treated with deep reverence, said Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida in Orlando.
Also, a coalition of Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders held a news conference in Washington on Tuesday to condemn Jones' statements and other slurs aimed at Muslims nationwide.
However, Ingram said the church believes "Islam is of the Devil," which is not only the title of Jones' recently co-published book but a slogan stamped on $14.99 coffee mugs and $15.99 T-shirts available through the church's website.
Ingram, who answered the phone nonstop at the church office, said Jones was not available for an interview Tuesday as he was "totally booked" for the day, meeting with television crews from national news programs.
Jones, 58, posts sermons and other teachings on YouTube under the heading, "The Braveheart Show," and announced the burning of the Islamic holy text in a video, saying, "This book is not a book of peace; this book is responsible for 9/11."
Dove World's Facebook page was peppered Tuesday with opposition messages, many pleading for the outspoken pastor to abandon his event, some echoing Petraeus' concerns.
Others branded his planned bonfire as "un-Christian" and "un-American."
Musri said he and other Muslims have remained silent but plan to participate in peaceful interdenominational services in Gainesville with Christians and Jews that are intended to blunt Jones and his message.
"We are ignoring him," Musri said of Jones. "All the Christians I know are not like him."
Since Jones first announced his plan to mark the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks by burning the Quran, he has received more than 200 copies of the holy book and intends to set them ablaze on church grounds, though he lacks a city permit to do so.
The church's application for a permit was rejected because it failed to meet guidelines for an open-air burning, which do not specifically address books, but forbid burning of office paper, Gainesville spokesman Robert Woods said.
He said the city will weigh options if the fire is lit. First offenders of the city ordinance usually receive a warning.