Bin Laden threatens EU over Prophet cartoons
Says Pope Benedict involved in crusade against Muslims
Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatened the European Union with grave punishment on Wednesday for publication of cartoons mocking Islam's Prophet Mohammad.
In an audio recording posted on the Internet coinciding with the birthday of Prophet Mohammad, bin Laden said the drawings, considered offensive by some Muslims, were part of a "new crusade" in which Pope Benedict was involved.
"Your publications of these drawings -- part of a new crusade in which the Pope of the Vatican had a significant role -- is a confirmation from you that the war continues," said the militant leader, addressing "those who are wise at the European Union".
You are "testing Muslims ... the answer will be what you shall see and not what you hear."
The charge is "not new or surprising," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters, dismissing as "totally unfounded" the accusation that the Roman Catholic Church backed the February 13 republication in several European newspapers of a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed.
It was bin Laden's first message since Nov. 29 when he urged Europe to end participation with U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The message, produced by al Qaeda media arm As-Sahab, carried an animation of a spear piercing through a red map of Europe with blood splashing as its tip penetrated the surface.
Michael Scheuer, a former CIA bin Laden tracker, said: "It's only ominous when he says 'don't listen to our words, watch for our actions' ... that means they clearly are intending to attack in Europe."
The U.S.-based IntelCenter, a terrorism monitoring firm, said the message was "a clear threat against EU member countries and an indicator of a possible upcoming significant attack, however, it is unclear in exactly what timeframe it may occur."
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the authenticity of the recording was under examination but added it was in line with "al Qaeda's ongoing propaganda effort."
Bin Laden said the publication of the cartoons was a graver offence than the "bombing of modest villages that collapsed over our women children", in reference to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan with European participation. "This is the bigger catastrophe ... for which the punishment is graver."
"Animosity among people is very old but wise people ... have always been keen on maintaining the manners of disagreement and the ethics of fighting ... but you have abandoned many of these ethics although you use them as slogans," he said.
Bin Laden said Europe was intentionally targeting Muslim women and children at the behest of their "unjust ally who is close to departing the White house".
He said "brutality" had not defeated Muslims and made them determined to "avenge our folk and eject the invaders from out countries."
The cartoons were first published by the Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 but a furor erupted only after other newspapers reprinted them in 2006.