Bin Laden criticizes Europe for publication of prophet drawings

Thursday, March 20, 2008

CAIRO, Egypt -- Osama bin Laden criticized the publication of drawings insulting to the Prophet Muhammad in a new audio message posted late Wednesday and warned Europeans of a strong reaction to come.

The message, which appeared 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 AK-47.

The five-minute message issued a warning to Europeans but made no mention of the fifth anniversary Wednesday of the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.

"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 tape came as the Muslim world marks the Prophet Muhammad's birthday today 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 show 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.

Adam Raisman, senior analyst at the SITE Institute, a Washington-based group that monitors terror messages, said that the tape's release coincides with an increased buzz in online jihadi forums calling for revenge on 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 U.S.-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, Bin Laden described the cartoons as taking place in the framework of a "new Crusade" against Islam, in which 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," said the voice believed to be Bin Laden's. "This is the greatest misfortune and the most dangerous, and the judgment for it will be stronger."

The five-minute message, which featured English subtitles, is bin Laden's first for 2008 and 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.

In the tape posted late Wednesday, Bin Laden also attacked his longtime 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 U.S. troops on its soil.

Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, Egypt and Lily Hindy in New York contributed to this report.

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