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Vatican Rejects Bin Laden's 'Crusade' Accusations

The Vatican has rejected accusations from al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden that Pope Benedict XVI is involved in a "new crusade" to ridicule Islam.

Vatican spokesman Reverend Federico Lombardi Thursday said the charges against the pope are not new, or surprising. But he said accusations that the pope supported the publication of satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad are totally unfounded.

The spokesman said the pope has criticized the cartoons, which first appeared in Danish newspapers in 2005.

In an audio recording posted to an al-Qaida-affiliated Web site (al-Ekhlaas) late Wednesday, a voice said to be that of bin Laden said publishing the cartoons was a greater offense than Western forces bombing the homes of women and children.

Bin Laden said the cartoons are part of a crusade against Islam in which the Vatican has played a large and lengthy role. He also warned the European Union that it will be severely punished for publishing the cartoons.

The audio track with English subtitles is heard over a video image of bin Laden holding a rifle.

Satirical cartoons of Islam's Prophet Muhammad were published in Danish newspapers in 2005, sparking mass riots in Muslim nations worldwide. Last month they republished one of the cartoons - in which Prophet Muhammad is wearing a bomb as a turban - to show their commitment to freedom of speech, after police said a plot to kill the artist was uncovered.

The message, entitled "The response will be what you see, not what you hear," is bin Laden's first public statement since late last year.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and AP.