NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) — On the eve of the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, there were renewed calls from President Barack Obama and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for religious tolerance.
The Florida pastor who planned to burn copies of the Koran was reportedly on a flight to New York on Friday night.
Dr. K.A. Paul, a Christian evangelist who runs a ministry out of Houston, said he bought the ticket for Jones to fly out of Orlando and land around 10:15 p.m. in New York. Paul provided The Associated Press with a copy of the itinerary and flight confirmation number.
Paul said Jones was able to sneak out of his Gainesville church without the media noticing.
He wants to meet with the imam involved in the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero, reports CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey.
In addition, more than 2,000 people gathered at a candlelight vigil in New York on Friday night in support of religious freedom and the right to build the mosque.
Many in the crowd filling half of two blocks near the site of the proposed mosque held candles and waved American flags.
The vigil was sponsored by New York Neighbors for American Values, a coalition of 40 civic, religious and civil rights organizations.
Organizers said they held the vigil Friday night to avoid entangling the mosque controversy and the Sept. 11 commemoration, although activists on both sides of the debate have planned rallies.
Earlier Friday, the day before Korans were scheduled to be burned, the president weighed in — again.
“Part of my concern is to make sure we don’t have a whole bunch of folks all over the country thinking this is the best way to get attention,” Obama said.
As the attention-grabbing pastor continued to back away from his threat, the circus-like atmosphere surrounding this tiny church, the Koran, and the link to a controversial mosque planned near ground zero continued.
“Imam Feisal, the challenge is crystal clear,” Dr. Paul said.
On Friday, Dr. Paul joined Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center and gave the spiritual leader of the mosque, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a two-hour deadline to call and tell them, “If he has agreed to move the mosque from ground zero to another location,” Dr. Paul said.
After the deadline passed there was another news conference.
“We have not heard from the imam but we are very hopeful we will meet with him,” Jones said.
Jones said planned on heading to New York to meet with the mosque’s imam on Saturday, but it appears he left earlier.
“I am right now 100 percent sure the meeting will take place. I have no reason to believe that it will not,” Jones said.
That came as news to Rauf, who Friday said, “I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace. We have no such meeting planned at this time.”
Meanwhile, the Florida imam caught up in the deal making on Thursday said Jones had already agreed not to burn the Korans early Thursday, and then dragged the mosque into the mix to milk the attention.
“In his heart of hearts he knows this is very, very bad,” said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. “He knew that this is a good provocation tool so he played with it as far as he could.”
The mayor in the midst of it all nine years ago could only shake his head at what’s happening today.
“He should just act like a Christian minister and not be doing something that is highly offensive to millions and millions of Muslims,” Giuliani said.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the start of the worst fears of General David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates came to fruition. A demonstration at a NATO base against the proposed burning of Korans in Florida took place.
In Jalalabad, Afghanistan, demonstrators took to the streets enraged over the pastor’s plan.
The protest was just one of multiple violent protests that broke out in Afghanistan Friday morning — leaving at least 11 people hurt.
Jones’ responded to the reprisals in the Muslim World.
“I understand that it has revealed that there is a violent element of Islam that is much more violent than what we had anticipated,” Jones said.
In a press conference Friday morning, Obama reiterated that the United States was fighting against terrorists factions and not any religion.
“We are not at war against Islam,” Obama said.
The president also said he hopes Jones “prays on it and refrains from doing it,” referring to the pastor as “the individual down in Florida.”
Jones’ daughter, Emma, said in an interview with the German news website Spiegel Online that she begged him in an e-mail, “Papa, don’t do it,” but he didn’t answer. She said she hasn’t had contact him with since 2008, when he was ousted by members of a church he had founded in Cologne, Germany.
Meanwhile, A new poll showed support for an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site has grown slightly among New York City voters in the past month.
The Marist College survey released Friday showed about 41 percent of respondents favor the project, while 51 percent oppose it.
Support for the center is up from 34 percent in a poll released Aug. 10.
The number of those opposed did not change dramatically. It came down two points from 53 percent.
In the August poll, 13 percent of respondents said they were unsure. In Friday’s survey, 8 percent were unsure.
Marist questioned 616 New York City registered voters Sept. 2 through Tuesday. The poll had a plus or minus 4 percentage point margin of error.