Bin Laden Threatens Europe Over Muhammad Cartoons

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 20, 2008

BERLIN, March 19 -- In a new audiotape released Wednesday, Osama bin Laden warned Europeans that they will face a "severe reckoning" for repeatedly publishing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad in newspapers and magazines.

The five-minute speech was the second time in four months that bin Laden has delivered threats to European countries. He made only one oblique reference to President Bush -- calling him "your aggressive ally . . . who is about to depart the White House" -- and instead addressed his remarks to "the intelligent ones in the European Union."

The al-Qaeda leader criticized European countries for joining in military campaigns in Muslim lands. Although he lamented those actions, he suggested that the Muhammad cartoons were even more immoral and that retaliation was coming.

"It paled when you went overboard in your unbelief . . . and went to the extent of publishing those insulting drawings," he said. "If there is no check on your freedom of words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions."

The audio recording was accompanied by a still photograph of bin Laden holding an automatic rifle and was released by As-Sahab, the media arm of al-Qaeda.

In 2006, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons depicting Muhammad, prompting protests throughout the Muslim world. Followers of the faith generally consider depictions of the prophet blasphemous. Other European publications reprinted the cartoons, citing the right to free speech.

Last month, a cartoon showing Muhammad with a bomb for a turban was reprinted in Danish newspapers after police in Copenhagen said they had disrupted an assassination plot against the illustrator.

Staff researcher Julie Tate in Washington contributed to this report.

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