(CNN) -- A major Islamic group will announce an initiative Thursday to distribute 200,000 Qurans to replace what it says are 200 copies that a Florida church plans to burn in a gesture that has sparked controversy worldwide.
The Rev. Terry Jones, pastor of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, said he will go ahead with plans to burn Qurans on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Jones' plan comes amid increased pressure and warnings that doing so could endanger U.S. troops and Americans worldwide.
On Wednesday, the Vatican joined a chorus of groups imploring the church not to burn Islam's holy book, saying it would be an "outrageous and grave gesture."
The president of the General Assembly also expressed concern about the planned Quran burning. Ali Abdussalam Treki said it will "lead to uncontrollable reactions" and spark tension worldwide.
Earlier this week, Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, warned that the plan "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.
Despite the growing pressure, Jones has rejected the pleas, saying his message targets radical Islamists.
"The general needs to point his finger to radical Islam and tell them to shut up, tell them to stop, tell them that we will not bow our knees to them," Jones said on CNN's "AC360."
"We are burning the book," Jones said. "We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people."
In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group, plans to hold a news conference in Washington on Thursday to address the issue. The group's "Learn, Don't Burn" initiative includes the distribution of of 200,000 Qurans and other activities planned for Friday and Saturday.
"This educational initiative is designed for those who seek a proactive and constructive response to the church's very un-American actions," said Nihad Awad, CAIR national executive director.
"The tiny group of extremists carrying out the book burnings clearly do not represent our society or its values and have been repudiated by all mainstream religious and political leaders."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one of the few public officials who defended Jones' right to go ahead, even as he condemned the idea as "distasteful."
"I don't think he would like if somebody burned a book that in his religion he thinks is holy. ... But the First Amendment protects everybody, and you can't say that we are going to apply the First Amendment to only those cases where we are in agreement," Bloomberg said, citing the section of the Constitution that promises freedom of speech.
The planned action has drawn sharp criticism worldwide.
The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is dedicated to protecting U.S. troops from religious intolerance, has promised to buy one new Quran and donate it to the Afghan National Army for each one burned in Florida.
Petraeus has warned that the burning will endanger the lives of the 120,000 U.S. and NATO-led troops still battling al Qaeda and its allies in the Islamic fundamentalist Taliban movement.