Scattered, violent Anti-American protests in Islamic countries have been reported over the last few days, but U.S. government counterterrorism experts say the absence of any inflammatory televised images of Qurans being burned during recent 9/11 commemorations mean that such demonstrations should soon fizzle.
American counterterrorism agencies had expressed fear that serious violence could break out in some countries if Florida preacher Terry Jones went ahead with his plan to burn up to 200 copies of the Quran last Saturday. It was in part because of the U.S. intelligence assessment that policymakers—including President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Attorney General Eric Holder—made strong public statements condemning Jones, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates phoned Jones and expressed “grave concerns” about Muslim reaction if a Quran bonfire proceeded.
American embassies around the world had undertaken urgent reviews of their security precautions ahead of the expected Quran burnings. Officials had evaluated security preparedness “embassy by embassy," P. J. Crowley, the State Department’s chief spokesman, had said on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary. Embassies were “being prudent, given the potential for a violent reaction overseas," he said at the time.
In the end, Jones called off what some saw as likely a publicity stunt. Instead of burning Qurans at his church in Gainesville, Fla., on the 9/11 anniversary, he visited New York City, where he was denounced by some local politicians and failed to arrange a meeting with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim cleric behind a plan to build an Islamic cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero.
At least one minor incident involving the Quran did occur near Ground Zero last Saturday. Derek Fenton, an employee of New Jersey Transit, “ripped pages from the Quran and torched them with a lighter” near the intended site of the cultural-center project, according to a New York Daily News account. But the incident received little coverage. U.S. counterterrorism officials say they expect that any overseas protests sparked by news about Jones’s threatened action will soon die out.
A U.S. counterterrorism official, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information, also said that intelligence that on Tuesday led the U.S. Embassy in Jordan to issue an alert about a possible terrorist threat in the Gulf of Aqaba region—not too far from the Egyptian resort where Middle East peace talks are underway—may now be outdated. The official said concerns that led the embassy to recommend against nonofficial and personal travel to Aqaba also are fading.