Josh Morgan walks past the flags he helped place outside Harrison High near West Lafayette, Ind., to mark the 9/11 anniversary.
Michael Heinz / AP Enlarge
NEW YORK - For almost a decade, the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was marked by somber reflection and a call to unity, devoid of politics. Not this time.
This year's commemoration of the attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, Pa., promises to be the most political and contentious ever because of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor's plan to burn the Qur'an - and the debate those issues have engendered over religious freedom.
A Texas evangelist working with the Rev. Terry Jones on Friday gave assurances that no Qur'ans will be set ablaze Saturday.
"I can tell you 100 percent, Pastor Jones will not burn the Qur'an tomorrow," evangelist Kilari Anand Paul told the Orlando Sentinel. "There will be no Qur'an burning. Otherwise, I would not be here."
However, asked whether that meant Mr. Jones had abandoned the idea, Mr. Paul said, "I cannot speak for the future."
An acquaintance of the pastor said Mr. Jones landed in New York Friday night.
Mr. Jones has said he planned to meet with the imam overseeing a proposed mosque and Islamic center to be built near Ground Zero.
Mr. Paul says Mr. Jones was able to sneak out of his Gainesville church without the media noticing.
Under the shadow of the threatened Qur'an burning, official ceremonies marking the attacks are planned at the three locations the terrorists struck.
President Obama will attend a commemoration at the Pentagon, while Vice President Joe Biden will attend the ceremony at Ground Zero.
First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush will travel to Shanksville, Pa., to observe the ninth anniversary there.
Mr. 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.'"
He said a plan by Mr. Jones to mark 9/11 by burning copies of the Qur'an must be taken seriously because it could cause "profound damage" to U.S. troops and interests around the world.
"You don't play games with that," Mr. Obama said, adding that as commander in chief he had an obligation to respond.
Mr. Jones has been under pressure from the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to cancel the event.
In Afghanistan, 11 people were injured Friday in scattered protests of Mr. 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 prayers Friday that whether or not he burns the Qur'an, Mr. Jones already had "hurt the heart of the Muslim world."
Mr. Biden will attend the largest of the three 9/11 commemorations - the New York ceremony 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 in 2001.
The ceremony there will pause four times: twice to mark the times each plane hit the towers, and twice to observe the times the towers fell.
Houses of worship in the city have been asked to toll their bells at 8:46 a.m., when the first plane struck the north tower.
But this time, along with the formal ceremonies, activists for and against the proposed Islamic center are planning their own events to capture the emotion of the day for political purposes.
Nowhere do emotions run higher than in New York, where the proposed Islamic center just two blocks north of Ground Zero has inflamed passions before the commemoration.
Activists are organizing a pair of rallies - one against the planned Islamic center, one supporting it - to follow New York's official ceremony at a park southeast of the trade center site.
Anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who advocates banning the Qur'an 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.
New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said officers would guard the mosque site around the clock into next week.