NEW YORK, Sept 11 (AFP) - Remembrance ceremonies, marred by global tensions over a Florida pastor's threat to burn the Quran, were to take place today in New York and at the Pentagon on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The rituals honouring the nearly 3,000 people killed on September 11, 2001, when Islamist terrorists flew hijacked planes into the defence headquarters and New York's World Trade Center towers, unfold almost unchanged each year.
In New York at Ground Zero the names of the 2,752 victims who died there are read out against a background of somber music, with moments of silence marking the times when the two airliners slammed into the Twin Towers -- and again when the towers collapsed.
President Barack Obama was to attend the memorial service at the Pentagon, while Vice President Joseph Biden was to be in New York. A third service was taking place in Shanksville, Pennsylvania where the fourth hijacked airliner crashed into a field.
|Construction continues at the World Trade Center site with memorial footprints of the twin towers visible in New York City. AFP
This year the dignified and simple events are overshadowed by a row over a renegade Florida pastor's threat to publicly burn hundreds of Korans on Saturday if plans are not dropped for a proposed mosque near Ground Zero.
The pastor, Terry Jones, seemed to have abandoned his Quran-burning plan by Friday after pleas from President Barack Obama, the Vatican and several other world leaders warning of a catastrophe for Western-Muslim relations.
However, tensions remained high and Jones's stunt ensured that the related controversy over the proposed Ground Zero mosque took centre stage.
Rival rallies by groups supporting and opposing the disputed mosque project were to take place nearby soon after the official ceremonies at Ground Zero, breaking an unwritten taboo on open politicization of the anniversary.
Police said they would ensure the two groups were kept apart.
The still un-built mosque and Islamic community center was originally proposed by New York's Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as a chance to heal post-9/11 wounds just two blocks from Ground Zero.
However opponents accuse the imam of seeking to honour the Islamist terrorists responsible for the attacks.The mosque standoff and Jones's Quran burning plans have created such a toxic atmosphere for US Muslims that Obama pleaded on Friday for Americans “to make sure that we don't start turning on each other.”
Amnesty International, the human rights watchdog, warned on Friday of “persecution” against US Muslims and calling on the government to protect their rights.Jones's plans today remained unclear. The obscure pastor, who leads a tiny evangelical congregation of about 50, insisted his truce depended on being at least able to meet with Rauf. But there was no indication late on Friday that such a meeting was to take place.
Whatever happens, damage to the US image in the Muslim world may have already occurred.
Anger spilled in Afghanistan on Friday where thousands of people threw stones and demonstrated outside a small NATO military base.
Obama's Defence Secretary Robert Gates earlier had made a personal call to Jones, saying US troops in Afghanistan would face revenge attacks if the Koran burning went ahead.
There were also protests in Pakistan and Indonesia.
Najib Razak, prime minister of Muslim-majority Malaysia, warned that a “single act of abhorrence” could “ignite the feelings of Muslims throughout the world, the consequences of which I fear would be very, very costly.”