LONDON — Britain on Wednesday barred firebrand US pastor Terry Jones from the country, saying the controversial preacher who had threatened to burn the Koran was guilty of “unacceptable behavior.”
“The government opposes extremism in all its forms which is why we have excluded pastor Terry Jones from the UK,” said a spokesman from the Home Office, or interior ministry.
Jones, who triggered an international furor last year with plans to burn the holy book of Islam on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US, said he was disappointed with the ban.
“We are very disappointed. We would ask that they reconsider, that the ban be lifted,” he told Sky News television.
He was originally invited to speak in Britain at a rally organized by far-right group the English Defence League (EDL) on February 5 in Luton, a town just north of London.
The EDL says it fights what it calls the spread of militant Islam in Britain.
But the group withdrew its offer in the face of public opposition to the visit and concerns that Jones’ presence could inflame tensions in the town, which has a significant Muslim population.
After the invite was retracted, the radical evangelist said he still planned to visit Britain and was thinking of organizing an event in London. He also said he would fight any attempt to block him from visiting the country.
Announcing the ban on Wednesday, the Home Office said many comments made by Jones provided “evidence of his unacceptable behavior”.
“Coming to the UK is a privilege not a right and we are not willing to allow entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good,” said the spokesman.
“The use of exclusion powers is very serious and no decision is taken lightly or as a method of stopping open debate.”
The pastor however insisted that he was not against Islam and said he had personal reasons for wanting to visit as his daughter lived in Britain.
“I believe that our visit there could be beneficial,” he said.
“We are by no means against Muslims, we are not against Islam… We have always spoken out only against the radical element of Islam.”
“My daughter lives in England. My grandchildren are English and live in England,” he added.
Jones leads the tiny Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.