osama bin Laden, in a new audio message posted Wednesday, condemned the publication of drawings that he said insulted the prophet Muhammad and warned Europeans of a “severe” reaction to come.
The message, which appeared on a militant website that has carried Al Qaeda 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 in 2008, made no mention of the fifth anniversary Wednesday of the US-led invasion in Iraq.
It came as the Muslim world marked 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.
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 services 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 past month.
Ben Venzke, the head of IntelCenter, a US group that monitors militant messages, called bin Laden’s latest message 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 message’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. “The tape doesn’t give any specific evidence that would allow us to determine when it was recorded,” Raisman said.
Bin Laden said the cartoons were “part of a new crusade in which the pope of the Vatican had a significant role”.
The reference was part of a familiar bin Laden strategy to paint Islam and Christian-rooted societies as being in a state of war.
“It’s the logic of the crusade. The pope, in the imagination of the Islamists, may appear as the head of the crusade, which is clearly absurd but may have meaning for some Muslims and the Islamists. I do think it may indicate the Pope is a target,” said Claude Moniquet, head of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center.
He said the pope’s presence in Rome was one factor making Italy a target for Al Qaeda. Other European countries in its sights included Denmark and the Netherlands, where right-wing politician Geert Wilders is set to release a video on March 23 that is expected to condemn the Koran.
Official reaction in Europe was muted on Thursday. “We will continue our policy of not commenting on this kind of provocation,” said Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
“In the Netherlands it’s taken seriously, but on the other hand it’s nothing new,” said Dutch security analyst Edwin Bakker. He said bin Laden was pouring oil on “fires that are already burning.”
The Vatican rejected bin Laden’s accusations as “totally unfounded.” Analysts said the message would be studied by intelligence agencies but would not prompt governments to tighten security further. “In the main target countries, we’re already at a very high level,” Brussels-based Moniquet said.
UPDATED : 03/29 – THE ENTIRE TEXT OF OBL’S OUTRIGHT THREAT TO EUROPE:
In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate.
To the wise men of the EU: Peace be upon those who follow the right path.
My address to you concerns the defaming cartoons, and failing to do what needs to be done — even though you had the chance — to prevent the reoccurrence of the cartoons.
First of all, I say that enmity among humans is very ancient. However, the wise men of nations, throughout ages, have been keen on observing the rules of dispute and fighting ethics, which is good for them. This is because conflict keeps changing, and war has its ups and downs. However, in your conflict with us, you have practically given up many of the fighting ethics, although you raise its slogans in theory. It saddens us to target our villages with your bombing; those modest mud villages, which caved in over our women and children. You do this deliberately and I am a witness to such acts. You do this unjustly. You do it to go along with your unjust ally who along with his aggressive policies is about to leave the White House.
It is no secret to you that these barbaric acts have not resolved the war. Instead, these acts made us more resolved to hold on to our right, avenge our people, and expel the invaders from our country. Such massacres are not forgotten by peoples, and the ramifications of this state are no secret.
Although the killing of our women and children at your hands is, indeed, a grievous disaster, it became less painful when you went too far with your infidelity and disregard to the ethics of fighting and disagreement as to publish these defaming cartoons. This disaster is the greatest and most serious, and punishment for it will be harsher. I want to draw your attention here to a significant point which is that although you published the defaming cartoons, none of the 1.5 billion Muslims showed any insulting reaction to God’s Prophet Isa Bin-Maryam [Jesus], peace be upon him. This is because we believe in all the prophets, peace be upon them. Anyone belittling or making fun of any of them is viewed as a renegade infidel.
In this regard, it should be pointed out that there is no need for you to use as a pretext the sanctity of your freedom of expression and laws, and to say that you will not change them. If this were the case, then why were the US soldiers deployed on your territories relieved from being subject to your laws? And why do you suppress the freedom of those who cast doubts over the figures pertaining to a certain historical incident? Besides, you know that there is one man who can stop these cartoons if the issue concerned him. This man is the uncrowned king in Riyadh, who had ordered your legal commissions to stop investigating the embezzlement of billions in Al-Yamamah deal. Blair, who has become your representative in the Quartet, carried out the order.
In brief, the man-made laws, which are at odds with Almighty God’s laws, are null and unsacred, and do not concern us. Additionally, your stance toward Al-Yamamah Deal makes it incumbent upon you to acknowledge that there are some values that are greater than yours.
Finally, I tell you that if the freedom of your speech has no limits, then you should accept the freedom of our actions open-mindedly. It is astonishing and humiliating to the others to talk about tolerance and peace at a time when your soldiers are killing even the weak ones in our countries. This was followed by your publication of these cartoons, which were within the framework of a new Crusader campaign and in which th e Pope of Vatican had a big role. All of this is considered an affirmation on your part of the continuation of the war and a test of Muslims’ zeal for their religion and whether the prophet may God’s prayers and peace be upon him, is dearer to them than their selves and property.
The answer is what you will see, not what you hear. May our mothers be bereaved if we do not support our prophet, may God’s prayers and peace be upon him; peace be upon whoever follows the right path.