What happened
An audio message from Osama bin Laden was posted Wednesday night on militant Web sites, and played on cable network Al Jazeera, in which the Al Qaeda leader condemned Europe for publishing Danish cartoons caricaturing Islam’s founding Prophet Mohammed and accused the pope and the Vatican of playing “a large, lengthy role” in a “new Crusade” against Islam. A Vatican spokesman said Pope Benedict XVI, in the middle of the busy week before Easter, was not going to change his public schedule, but Italian security officials said they are taking the threat “seriously.” (The New York Times, free registration)

What the commentators said
Bin Laden is trying to “whip up Muslim anger with his absurd accusation against the pope,” said the Charleston, S.C., Post and Courier in an editorial. But “fortunately” his message—which also includes calls to “punish Europe for free speech, destroy Israel, and conquer Iraq”—is not “widely accepted” in the “Muslim world.”

You’ll hear “pundits” call “bin Laden’s papal fixation” mere “mindless babble from a paranoid cave dweller,” said Father Jonathan Morris in FOXNews.com. But his “cave has a very good antenna,” and he’s right: Pope Benedict is on a crusade. Only it’s “not against Islam.” It’s more a “quiet pilgrimage” against the “clutches of fundamentalism” and for the primacy of “rationality.” And the pope is making “significant” inroads—now “Muslims too are signing up to fight the crusade.” That’s why bin Laden is going “out of his way—way out of his way”—to target the pope: he’s “afraid.”

Afraid? There’s “literally no doubt in my mind” that bin Laden’s dead, said Rusty Shackleford in the blog The Jawa Report. Seriously, the Danish cartoons were “first published in September of 2005!” And there is nothing about current events in his message. Al Qaeda was likely “embarrassed” that they had “nothing to offer the world” on the anniversary of the Iraq war, so they threw together some “old audio, probably from 2006.” Even the pope’s comments about the cartoons were in 2006. “OLD audio.”

Maybe, but there might be good reason for Europe to take it seriously, said Mark Trevelyan in a Reuters analysis. The Crusades reference is part of bin Laden’s “familiar” effort to “paint Islam and Western, Christian-rooted societies as being in a state of war” since "the Middle Ages.” But the shift to “focus on Europe as opposed to the United States” as “fertile soil for Al Qaeda” is “striking.” Luckily, it doesn’t appear to “signal an imminent attack.”