Vatican Security Worries Over Bin Laden Tape

ROME — The Vatican on Thursday rejected an audiotaped accusation from Osama bin Laden that Pope Benedict XVI was leading a “new Crusade” against Muslims, but Italian security officials were concerned about the threats included in Mr. bin Laden’s new message.

“These accusations are absolutely unfounded,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the pope’s chief spokesman, said in a telephone interview. “There is nothing new in this, and it doesn’t have any particular significance for us.”

The audio message attributed to Mr. bin Laden was released Wednesday night and was addressed to “the intelligent ones in the European Union.” It was posted on a militant Web site on Wednesday, and an English transcription was distributed Thursday by the SITE Intelligence Group in Bethesda, Md., which tracks postings by Al Qaeda on the Internet.

The audiotape listed broad grievances, but specifically mentioned the pope, and coincided with the busiest week of the year at the Vatican, the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The pope, who turns 81 next month, will appear at several public events, including the annual Good Friday procession of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum.

In the five-minute message, the speaker said there would be a “severe” reaction against the publication in Europe of cartoons many Muslims considered offensive to the Prophet Muhammad. He said the cartoons — one reprinted last month in Denmark, more than two years after they were first published there — “came in the framework of a new Crusade in which the pope of the Vatican has played a large, lengthy role.”

Without naming any specific action or target, the speaker said, “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.”

Father Lombardi dismissed the accusations, noting that the pope had condemned the cartoons several times and stressed that “religion must be respected.”

Al Qaeda and its supporters have issued several threats against the pope since he quoted a medieval Byzantine emperor in a speech in Germany two years ago referring to Islam as “evil and inhuman.” The pope apologized for the anger caused by the speech, saying that the view expressed in the quotation was not his own.

Asked about heightened security concerns, Father Lombardi said the recording “does not in any way affect the conduct of the pope.” He said the Vatican had no plans for any more security than what was already in place for the public events leading up to Easter.

An Italian security official, however, was quoted anonymously on Thursday by the ANSA news agency as saying that officials were taking the threats “seriously.” A spokesman for the nation’s Interior Ministry declined to answer specific questions about the threat, referring a reporter to the ANSA report.

The report stated that Italian antiterrorism officials would meet Friday to analyze the tape. It said the message would be “examined with attention to the threat surrounding the pope.” Though the Vatican is technically a separate and sovereign state, Italy provides policing and security for the pope.

After violent demonstrations against his speech two years ago, the pope has called frequently for dialogue between Christians and Muslims. A delegation of Muslim scholars met with Vatican officials this month to prepare for broader talks between the pope and Muslim representatives later this year.

Benedict XVI is scheduled to make his first visit as pope to the United States from April 15 to 20, with stops in New York and Washington. The Secret Service and the New York Police Department, responsible for the pope’s security on the trip, had no comment on the bin Laden audiotape.

Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner in New York, said in an e-mailed statement that the department “has been working closely with the United States Secret Service to provide the highest level of protection possible for the pope during his visit to New York.”

Daniele Pinto contributed reporting.