LONDON (Reuters) - An American Christian preacher who rose from obscurity to cause global uproar this year by threatening to burn the Koran says he plans to visit Britain to speak at an event hosted by a far-right anti-Islamist group.
Anti-extremist groups have urged the British government to ban entry to Florida Pastor Terry Jones, whose threat to burn Islam’s holy book on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks provoked widespread condemnation.
Britain’s Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said on Sunday she would be looking into the case.
On his website, Jones said he been invited to a rally held by a group called the English Defense League (EDL) in the town of Luton, north of London, in February.
“During the protest, Dr Terry Jones will speak against the evils and destructiveness of Islam in support of the continued fight against the Islamification (sic) of England and Europe,” the website said.
Jones, who heads a tiny church called the Dove World Outreach Center, dropped his Koran-burning plan after it provoked outrage across the Muslim world and a warning from U.S. President Barack Obama that the action would have helped al Qaeda.
The EDL has staged protests in towns and cities across Britain against Islamic extremism since its formation last year and many of its demonstrations have led to violent confrontations with opponents and police.
Eleven people were arrested at a demonstration by the group in Peterborough in central England on Saturday, and the head of one regional counter-terrorism unit has said the EDL marches had actually helped radicalize some Muslims.
Just under three percent of Britain’s population of around 62 million describe their religion as Muslim.
Protests by Islamist extremists rarely attract more than a few dozen people, whereas the EDL marches tend to draw from a few hundred to a couple of thousand.
The Hope Not Hate organization said it had written to May calling on her to prevent Jones from entering the country, saying it would be “incendiary and highly dangerous.”
“The EDL emerged in Luton in May 2009 and its first demonstration ended with 250 people going on the rampage through a predominantly Asian area of the town,” said the letter, published on the group’s website.
“Since then it has become a national organization and is the single biggest threat to social cohesion in this country today.”
May can ban visitors from Britain on the ground that their presence would not be conducive to the public good, though not simply because of the views they hold. Radical Islamist preachers have been banned in the past.
“Pastor Terry Jones has been on my radar for a few months now. If it is now clear that he’s definitely coming to the UK then of course this is a case I will be actively looking at,” May told Sky News.
Editing by Philippa Fletcher