Vatican dismisses bin Laden's accusation

Al-Qaida leader had vowed revenge for Muhammad cartoons and said Pope complicit in "new Crusade."

bin laden audiotape 2248 (photo credit: AP)
bin laden audiotape 2248
(photo credit: AP)
The Vatican said Thursday Osama bin Laden's accusation that Pope Benedict XVI has played a role in a worldwide campaign against Islam was "baseless." The Vatican spokesman said it was not surprising that bin Laden mentioned the pope in a new audiotape posted on a Web site. But Rev. Federico Lombardi said that accusing Benedict of disrespecting Islam and its prophet, Muhammad, was "absolutely baseless." In the tape bin Laden warns of a "severe" reaction for Europe's publication of cartoons of the prophet and says they are part of a "new Crusade" against Islam in which Benedict has played a "large and lengthy role." Lombardi on Thursday said the pope had criticized the cartoons on several occasions. Bin-Laden's message, posted late Wednesday on a militant Web site that has carried al-Qaida statements in the past and bore the logo of the extremist group's media wing al-Sahab, showed a still image of bin Laden aiming with an assault rifle. "The response will be what you see and not what you hear and let our mothers bereave us if we do not make victorious our messenger of God," said a voice believed to be bin Laden's, without specifying what action would be taken. The five-minute message, bin Laden's first this year, made no mention of the fifth anniversary Wednesday of the US-led invasion in Iraq. It came as the Muslim world marks the Prophet Muhammad's birthday Thursday and amid the reigniting of a two-year-old controversy over some Danish cartoons deemed by Muslims to be insulting. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry. On Feb. 13, Danish newspapers republished a cartoon showing Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban to illustrate their commitment to freedom of speech after police said they had uncovered a plot to kill the artist. Danish intelligence service said the reprinting of the cartoon had brought "negative attention" to Denmark and may have increased the risk to Danes at home and abroad. The original 12 cartoons first published in a Danish newspaper triggered major protests in Muslim countries in 2006. There have been renewed protests in the last month. Ben Venzke, the head of IntelCenter, a US group that monitors militant messages, called Wednesday's video a "clear threat against EU member countries and an indicator of a possible upcoming significant attack." In the message, Bin Laden described the cartoons as taking place in the framework of a "new Crusade" against Islam, in which he said the Pope has played a "large and lengthy role." "You went overboard in your unbelief and freed yourselves of the etiquettes of dispute and fighting and went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings," he said, according to a transcript released by the SITE Institute, another US group that monitors terror messages. "This is the greater and more serious tragedy, and reckoning for it will be more severe." Adam Raisman, senior analyst at the SITE Institute, said that the tape's release coincides with an increased buzz in online jihadi forums calling for revenge against Europe over the cartoons. But Raisman noted that bin Laden's message did not specifically mention the republishing of the cartoons, only the publishing, and it did not give any other time landmarks to prove it had been recorded since then. Raisman also noted bin Laden's silence on Wednesday's fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq. "The tape doesn't give any specific evidence that would allow us to determine when it was recorded," Raisman said. In the message addressed to "the intelligent ones in the European Union," bin Laden also criticized the "aggressive policies" of US President George W. Bush. "How it saddens us that you target our villages with your bombing: those modest mud villages which have collapsed onto our women and children. You do that intentionally, and I am witness to that," he said, according to SITE. "All of this (you do) without right and in conformity with your oppressive ally who - along with his aggressive policies - is about to depart the White House." On Wednesday, Bush praised Sunni tribal leaders for rising up against al-Qaida in Iraq and said that has led to similar uprising across the country. All that, combined with a strategic influx of US troops last year, has "opened the door to a major victory in the broader war on terror," Bush said. "Iraq was supposed to be the place where al-Qaida rallied Arab masses to drive America out," Bush said. "Instead, Iraq has become the place where Arabs joined with Americans to drive al-Qaida out. In Iraq, we are witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden, his grim ideology." In Wednesday's message, bin Laden also attacked his long-time nemesis, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom he described as the "crownless king in Riyadh" and said he could have ended the entire dispute over the cartoons if he had wanted because of his influence with European governments. Bin Laden, who hails from a powerful Saudi family, was stripped of his citizenship in 1994 after criticizing Saudi Arabia for allowing US troops on its soil. Wednesday's message, which featured English subtitles, follows up an hour-long, audio missive from Dec. 29 in which he warned Iraq's Sunni Arabs against fighting Al-Qaida in Iraq and vowed new attacks on Israel.