Rahmat Gul  /  AP
Afghans pelt stones at an election signboard and burn tires blocking a highway, in reaction to a small American church's plan to burn copies of the Quran, at Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/11/2010 3:34:40 AM ET 2010-09-11T07:34:40

They will read the names, of course, the names of every victim who died in the Sept. 11 attacks. The bells will ring. And then that moment of unity will give way to division as activists hoist signs and march, some for and some against a planned mosque two blocks from ground zero.

More than 2,000 supporters of the mosque project held a vigil Friday night meant to avoid entangling the mosque controversy and the Sept. 11 observance.

The mosque debate has become so heated that President Barack Obama felt the need to remind Americans on Friday: "We are not at war against Islam."

A day ahead of the attack's ninth anniversary, a report also warned that the United States faced a growing threat from home-grown insurgents and an "Americanization" of the al-Qaida leadership.

The question remained whether hushed tones would replace the harsh rhetoric that threatened to overshadow the commemoration of the terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa.

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The son of an anti-Muslim pastor in Florida confirmed that his father would not — at least for now — burn copies of the Quran, a plan that inflamed much of the Muslim world and drew a stern rebuke from Obama.

But Terry Jones arrived late on Friday night in New York, where he was scheduled to appear on NBC's "Today" show on Saturday morning. Jones has said he wants to meet with the imam behind the proposed mosque.

'Not a political event'
Activists in New York insisted their intentions were peaceful.

"It's a rally of remembrance for tens of thousands who lost loved ones that day," said Pamela Geller, a conservative blogger and host of the anti-mosque demonstration. "It's not a political event, it's a human rights event."

The site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center is already used for services, but it was padlocked Friday, closed until Sunday. Police guarded the block, and worshippers were redirected to a different prayer room 10 street blocks away.

More than 2,000 supporters of the project, waving candles and American flags, held a vigil near the proposed Islamic center's site Friday evening instead of Saturday.

Organizers "believe that tomorrow is a day for mourning and remembrance," said Jennifer Carnig, a spokeswoman for the New York Civil Liberties Union, one of the vigil's sponsors.

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Stephanie Parker, daughter of 9/11 victim Philip L. Parker, said she came to the vigil because she's troubled by what she sees as people wrongly equating all of Islam with the extremists who attacked the trade center, and by the way the furor surrounding the mosque has become entangled with the attacks' anniversary. She has previously chosen to spend those anniversaries with her family.

"I think the anniversary is being overshadowed," Parker, 21, said in an interview as she relighted a candle that kept blowing out in a breeze.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota called for devoting Sept. 11 to honoring victims and the first responders who worked to save them — not the Islamic center controversy.

"It is not proper or right to distract from honoring those heroes and remembering those victims. Not doing anything else than that tomorrow," Ellison, who is Muslim, told the crowd. "And yet we know the possibility of that is real."

'No Quran burning tomorrow'
For Jones, pastor of a 50-member Pentecostal church in Florida, it once was to be a day to burn the Quran. He backed off that threat after drawing angry protests across the Muslim world, a call from the secretary of defense and impassioned pleas to call it off from religious and political leaders and his own daughter.

Jones' 29-year old son, Luke Jones, earlier told reporters outside his father's Gainesville church Friday, "There will be no Quran burning tomorrow." He added that he could not predict what might happen in the future.

Terry Jones had previously said he would cancel his plan if the leader of the planned New York Islamic center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, would agree to move the project to another location.

Jones claimed Thursday that an imam in Florida had told him the mosque would be moved. That imam later said Jones was mistaken, that he had only arranged a meeting with Rauf in New York on Saturday.

Rauf, however, said that wasn't true, either, that he had no plans to meet with Jones, although he added in a statement Friday that he is open to seeing anyone "seriously committed to pursuing peace."

In Afghanistan, 11 people were injured Friday in scattered protests of Jones' plan. Only a few thousand people attended those rallies and no large-scale demonstrations were reported elsewhere. In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, cleric Rusli Hasbi told 1,000 worshippers at Friday prayers that whether or not Jones burns the Quran, he has already "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."

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And a day before the attack's ninth anniversary, former heads of the 9/11 Commission that studied the 2001 attacks presented a 43-page report they called a wake-up call about the radicalization of Muslims in the United States and the changing strategy of al-Qaida and its allies.

"The threat that the U.S. is facing is different than it was nine years ago," said the report, released by the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center on Friday.

"The U.S. is arguably now little different from Europe in terms of having a domestic terrorist problem involving immigrant and indigenous Muslims as well as converts to Islam."

Ceremonies at 3 sites
As on other 9/11 anniversaries, official ceremonies were planned at the three locations where the terrorists struck. Obama will be at the Pentagon, Vice President Joe Biden will go to New York, and first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush will travel to Shanksville.

Obama told a White House news conference that Sept. 11 would be "an excellent time" for the country to reflect on the fact that there are millions of Muslims who are American citizens, that they also are fighting in U.S. uniforms in Afghanistan, and "we don't differentiate between 'them' and 'us.' It's just 'us.'"

Biden will attend the largest commemoration, at a park near ground zero, where 2,752 people were killed when Muslim extremists flew planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Houses of worship in the city will toll bells at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the north tower, and three more times to mark the moment the second plane hit the south tower and to observe the times each tower fell.

Activists are organizing a pair of rallies — one against the planned Islamic center, one supporting it — to follow the official ceremony.

Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son, Christian Regenhard, planned to attend the morning ceremony and the anti-mosque protest.

"The purpose is to speak out and express our feelings that this mosque, the location of it, is a grievous offense to the sensitivity of 9/11 families," Regenhard said. "There's nothing political about people who want to speak out against something they think is so wrong, so hurtful and so devastating."

But Donna Marsh O'Connor, whose pregnant daughter, Vanessa, was killed in the attacks, supports the mosque. She said she strongly opposes the anti-mosque rally and the political motivations behind it.

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"It's more of the same hate-mongering and fear-mongering that's been going on for years," O'Connor said. "People have a right to free speech. But if they're talking about sensitivities to 9/11 families, why are they rallying and doing events on a day we should spend thinking about those we lost?"

Anti-mosque messages
John Bolton, who was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, was expected to send a videotaped message of support to the anti-mosque rally, as was conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who advocates banning the Quran and taxing Muslim women who wear head scarves, plans to address the crowd in person, as do a handful of Republican congressional candidates who have made opposition to the mosque a centerpiece of their campaigns.

Also Saturday, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was expected to observe the anniversary in Alaska with Fox News TV host Glenn Beck.

New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan spoke out Friday against Saturday's planned New York protests, saying Sept. 11 "has become a holy day in our community and our nation."

"We must never allow Sept. 11th to become a time for protest and division," he added. "Instead, this day must remain a time for promoting peace and mutual respect."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Verena Dobnik, David Caruso and Colleen Long in New York, Ayi Jufridar in Lhokseumawe, Indonesia; Robert Reid in Kabul; Darlene Superville, Anne Flaherty and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; and AP Legal Affairs Writer Curt Anderson in Miami.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Time-lapse shows fast-paced work at 9/11 site

Data: New plans for Ground Zero

Explainer: What they're saying about 9/11 anniversary

  • Image: World Trade Center site in New York City
    Mark Lennihan  /  AP file
    Construction continues at the World Trade Center site in New York. On Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010, the nation will observe the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa.

    Many officials and others are commenting on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pa. Official commerorations took place Saturday withi President Barack Obama at the Pentagon; Vice President Joe Biden at New York's ground zero; first lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush in Shanksville. Here's a sample of remarks:

  • Former first lady Laura Bush, at Flight 93 ceremony in Shanksville, Pa.:

    Image: Former first lady Laura Bush
    Jason Cohn  /  Reuters
    Former first lady Laura Bush

    "Nine years ago in the skies above this field and in Washington and in New York City we saw the worst of our enemy and the best of our nation. On this day, Americans have no divisions. ... We saw that there is evil in the world but good at the heart of our country. America was attacked, but the deepest belief of our democracy was vindicated."

  • First lady Michelle Obama, at Flight 93 ceremony in Shanksville, Pa.:

    Image: First lady Michelle Obama
    Jason Cohn  /  Reuters
    First lady Michelle Obama

    "May the memory of those who gave their lives here continue to be an inspiration to you and an inspiration to all of America. ... It was clear that these 40 individuals were no strangers to sacrifice. Being a hero is not just a matter of faith, it's a matter of choice. ... It is truly my prayer today that all who come here will be filled with hope."

  • Former President George W. Bush, in a prepared statement:

    Image: George W. Bush
    Jim Young  /  Reuters file
    Former President George W. Bush

    "On September 11, 2001, Americans awoke to evil on our shores. We recall the many acts of heroism on that day, and we honor those who work tirelessly to prevent another attack."

  • President Barack Obama, at the Pentagon commemoration:

    Image: President Barack Obama
    Charles Dharapak  /  AP
    President Barack Obama

    "They may seek to exploit our freedoms, but we will not sacrifice the liberties we cherish or hunker down behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. They may wish to drive us apart, but we will not give in to their hatred and prejudice. As Americans we are not — and never will be — at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day — it was al-Qaida, a sorry band of men which perverts religion."

  • Karen Carroll, who lost her brother, firefighter Thomas Kuveikis:

    "Let today never, ever be a national holiday. Let it not be a celebration. It's a day to be somber; it's a day to reflect on all those thousands of people that died for us in the United States."

  • Mark Kijas, 54, at Tampa, Fla., ceremony Saturday, was a security director at Oxygen Media in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001:

    "I never though I would run down there. I just did it. You get caught up in the moment and your emotion takes over. We just went down there to do what we could." About protesters: "They're forgetting what this day's about. It's about coming together."

  • House Republican Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.:

    Image: Eric Cantor
    Harry Hamburg  /  AP file
    House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va.

    "On this ninth anniversary of 9/11, let us rededicate ourselves to seeing the world as it really is. Let us honor the brave men and women who have served in our armed forces and those who continue to fight to keep our country safe. Let us work together, Republicans and Democrats, to ensure that our troops have the funds and resources necessary to accomplish our mission in Afghanistan and defeat terrorists around the world. By standing together, we will face down our foes and remain the greatest source of hope and freedom that the world has ever known." (Full statement)

  • New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, to Daily News about collage of 343 firefighters killed in collapse of Twin Towers:

    Image: New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano
    Alli Harvey  /  Getty Images file
    New York City Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano

    "I have to look them in the eye and tell them their losses were not in vain. We have to build on what they did and never, ever forget." (Full story)

  • New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in a statement about a Sept. 11 protest:

    Image: New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan
    Mary Altaffer  /  AP
    New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan

    "We must never allow September 11th to become a time for protest and division. Instead, this day must remain a time for promoting peace and mutual respect. It is my hope that September 11th will be a day when we resolve to continue working on those issues which divide us, and lay the foundation for a new and deeper understanding among us all." (Full statement)

  • The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary:

    Image: The Rev. Michael Kinnamon
    www.ncccusa.org
    The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches general secretary

    "What began with a twisted plot by a handful of terrorists with bizarre ideas about God evolved quickly into two wars, tens of thousands of additional deaths among all combatants, and the deepening of xenophobic misunderstandings on all sides about the nature of Christianity, Judaism and Islam." (Full statement)

  • House Republican Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

    Image: House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio
    Mark Duncan  /  AP
    House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio

    "Over the last year, we have seen in the most immediate way how terrorists still have innocent Americans in their sights, starting with a plot to blow up the New York City subway system, and continuing with the attacks at Fort Hood, Times Square, and on board Northwest Flight 253. Each of these attacks represented new strands of terrorism, new signs of an enemy ready and willing to adapt. Now more than ever, as citizens and patriots, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to confront and defeat the terrorist threat. That is why we should also take a moment today to salute the endurance, discipline, and valor of our troops, who have volunteered to take the fight to the enemy and keep the light of freedom burning bright." (Full statement)

  • House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C.:

    Image: House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C
    Douglas Graham  /  Roll Call Photos
    House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C

    "This weekend, Americans will join together in remembrance of those we lost nine years ago in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. We will also celebrate the generosity, resiliency and bravery of the American people as we honor the first responders, caregivers and average Americans who were on the scene responding to the disaster and on the job helping with the recovery. In the true American spirit we now take this occasion to help one another during a National Day of Service and Remembrance. It's important that we as Americans get involved in our communities, volunteer and extend a hand to those in need." (Full statement)

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Image: U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi
    Chris Wattie  /  Reuters
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

    "This day, and every day, we recommit to our first responsibility as elected officials: to protect the American people. And we rededicate ourselves to the values that make our country great: freedom, equality, and opportunity. ...  we also stood inspired by the thousands of firefighters, rescue workers, first responders, medical personnel and construction workers who traveled to the scene of the attack to help New Yorkers clean up and recover. We have an obligation to these heroes who never asked for any recognition, but who deserve to live out their lives with health. The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act will help those who jeopardized their health to save others." (Full statement)

  • Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.:

    Image: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.
    Chip Somodevilla  /  Getty Images
    House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

    "We rededicate ourselves to the struggle against terrorism and violent extremism, which is the struggle of all open societies. And we remember that the values that make America hated in the extremist mind — among which are equality, freedom of speech and conscience, and religious tolerance — are also the key to American greatness. Those values, provided that we honor them in our lives and our conduct, remain invulnerable to even the most devastating violence." (Full statement)

  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg:

    Image: New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
    Jemal Countess  /  Getty Images
    New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

    “How we came out of 9/11 can be something that all Americans can be proud of.”

  • Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear:

    Image: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear
    Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear

    "It is difficult to believe the appalling attacks of 9/11 occurred nearly a decade ago, as the pain and aftershock of the tragedy still deeply resonates with all Americans. Let us keep the friends and family members of the victims in our thoughts and prayers as we continue toward building a more peaceful, understanding and unified nation and world."

  • Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.:

    Image: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.
    Drew Angerer  /  AP
    Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.

    "The wound still hurts, but as we continue moving forward, building on our hopes for this nation, let’s remain committed to that spirit of unity, which we experienced in the days after the tragedy, and which we embrace today. Today, as a nation, our resolve and commitment to a future of peace and prosperity for all remain unshaken." (Full statement)

  • Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa:

    Image: Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa
    Bill Clark  /  Roll Call Photos
    Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa

    "September 11, 2001 was a day that changed the trajectory of our nation. It is my hope that we can honor the memory of those we lost by appealing to our better angels, creating a better, stronger nation not in spite of our differences, but because of them.” (Full statement)

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