BRADENTON, Fla. — The Florida pastor who is near the top of an al-Qaida hit list is now running a French fry stand at a Bradenton mall.
The Rev. Terry Jones has opened Fry Guys Gourmet Fries in the food court at DeSoto Square mall. When customers arrived at the counter, they saw a drawing of Jones’ stern face front and center in what looks like a police sketch beside pictures of two other co-owners. Their slogan: “We Take Fries Seriously.”
“At first I thought the pictures would not be so recognizable,” Jones told The Bradenton Herald in a phone interview Thursday. “They were supposed to be more of a cartoon type of thing.”
The mall’s manager was not aware of Jones’ associations until contacted for this story, and he immediately contacted the minister with his concerns.
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Jones said he agreed to take the drawing of his face off the wall, but his face will remain on the company’s logo and his name will remain on the paperwork.
“This is our first restaurant and we plan on being a chain,” Jones said. “Right now we just agreed to take down the three pictures.”
Mall manager Robert Tackett said he was “shocked” by Jones’ background, adding that the Jones family appeared to be “very nice people” to work with when they signed the lease.
Tackett said the parent company, Mason Asset Management and Namdar Realty, has no problem with Jones operating his business. Mason Asset owner Elliot Nassim did not return a message requesting comment.
Tackett, who served six years in the military, acknowledged this is a delicate issue balancing free speech while protecting DeSoto Square mall’s image given what he now knows about the co-owner.
“People have an opportunity to do business in America because we are a free country,” Tackett said. “He has not caused any problems or concerns. In fact, this is the first time I’ve heard any of this.”
Jones moved with his church, Dove World Outreach Center, from Gainesville, Fla., to East Manatee in August 2013, about a month before his Sept. 11 plan to burn the Quran in Mulberry, in Polk County, Fla.
He was arrested by Polk County deputies before the event occurred for unlawful carry of a firearm and unlawful conveyance of fuel. His congregation had burned a Quran at a previous event in 2011, despite a request by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to cancel the event.
Jones is No. 2 on an al-Qaida propaganda poster for being wanted dead or alive. Slain French editor Stéphane Charbonnier of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was also on that list. That poster circulated on Twitter this week with an X on Charbonnier’s face after he was slain Wednesday in an attack that killed at least 12 at the newspaper’s Paris office.
Having Jones as a terrorist target operating a business in a mall could be cause for concern. Tackett said a member of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office intelligence unit contacted him Thursday and assured him there weren’t any security threats to the mall because of Jones’ business.
The FBI did not return calls for comment.
The events in France, said Jones, reinforce his beliefs against Islam. He said he does not group all Muslims with radical Islam. “I will continue to speak out against Islam or even if you want to define it as radical Islam,” Jones said. “I’m not putting everyone in the same box, but Islam itself is a very oppressive religion.”
Samir Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Sarasota and Bradenton, said everyone has a right to free speech and to start a business. He doesn’t have a problem with the French fry stand “as long as he’s not doing something stupid to invite trouble,” Khatib said.
Khatib said he hopes Jones would stop burning the Quran because the holy book mentions Jesus about 100 times compared to the four for the Prophet Muhammad, while Abraham and Moses outpace to Jesus.
Jones said he has had an uptick in threats since the al-Qaida poster reappeared.
“We’ve always been concerned. I have about 400 to 500 death threats, and there’s an award for my life for $6.5 million,” Jones said.
“I don’t know if we may get extra protection from them,” he said. “They do patrol, on a semiregular basis, my house.”