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March 21, 2008 

Blasts kill two Afghan police, NATO soldier
March 21, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A suicide attacker blew himself up near a busy shrine in Afghanistan Friday, killing two policemen, while a NATO soldier was killed in a blast elsewhere, officials said.

Afghanistan's Karzai declines to say whether he'll seek another term as president
Associated Press / March 20, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai isn't saying whether he will seek another term as president in elections scheduled next year.

AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Afghans reluctant to leave Jalozai refugee camp
PESHAWAR, 20 March 2008 (IRIN) - Afghans in Jalozai refugee camp, Pakistan's largest refugee camp, are reluctant to leave, despite a deadline to vacate coming up in less than a month.

A new girls school in Afghanistan part of NATO strategy to be both warriors and well diggers
By PAUL AMES Associated Press March 21, 2008
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan - The little girl flashed a shy smile from under her white headscarf and stepped to the front of the class when the headmaster asked who could find Afghanistan on their new map of the world.

The Voice Of Turkey Radio To Broadcast For Afghanistan
turkishpress.com March 20, 2008
ANKARA - The Voice of Turkey Radio will start broadcasting programs for Afghanistan on March 21st.

Same game, new rules in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 21, 2008
KARACHI - After more than six years, coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an all-out offensive against the Taliban centered on their safe havens straddling the border with Pakistan.

Afghan students celebrate Navroz in Delhi
New Delhi, Mar.20 (ANI): Afghan students based in India continue to aspire for a strong developed Afghanistan, even as they celebrate the Persian New Year of Navroz in New Delhi.

Afghanistan: Most provinces 'opium free' says US official
Rome, 19 March(AKI) - A top US official fighting for drug crop eradication in Afghanistan claims that most of the country is on its way to being opium free.

New 'Bin Laden tape' threatens EU
Thursday, 20 March 2008BBC News
In a new audio message purportedly from Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader threatens the EU over the re-printing of a cartoon offensive to Muslims.

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Blasts kill two Afghan police, NATO soldier
March 21, 2008
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A suicide attacker blew himself up near a busy shrine in Afghanistan Friday, killing two policemen, while a NATO soldier was killed in a blast elsewhere, officials said.

Another bombing in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, flooded with visitors for New Year celebrations, wounded four people Friday, a security official said.

The suicide attacker in the southern province of Kandahar detonated his explosives near a vehicle of police guarding a shrine where Friday prayers were busier than normal because of the New Year holidays, officials said.

Two policemen were killed and three were wounded in the attack in the Arghandab area north of Kandahar, said the deputy provincial police chief, named only Amanullah. A civilian man was also hurt, he said.

First reports said the attacker had been riding a bicycle.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility but the attack was similar to dozens of others carried out by the Taliban, which was in government between 1996 and 2001 and is now waging an insurgency.

Security officials in Mazar-i-Sharif blamed their bomb, also near a shrine, on "enemies of Afghanistan," a term that often refers to the Taliban but could include other extremist groups.

In a separate incident, a soldier with the NATO-led force that is helping the government deal with the insurgency died on Thursday after being struck by a bomb in the south, the alliance said.

The nationality of the soldier and location of the incident were not disclosed in the International Security Assistance Force statement announcing the death.

The killing came after US Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise visit to Afghanistan on Thursday for talks with President Hamid Karzai on international efforts to fight the insurgency.

Both leaders called for NATO to sustain and even expand its work to crush the extremists and rebuild the war-torn country.

More than 30 international soldiers have died in Afghanistan this year.
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Afghanistan's Karzai declines to say whether he'll seek another term as president
Associated Press / March 20, 2008
KABUL, Afghanistan - Afghan President Hamid Karzai isn't saying whether he will seek another term as president in elections scheduled next year.

Karzai was speaking to journalists alongside U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney after the two met at Kabul's presidential palace.

Karzai says he wants to leave a legacy of strong political leaders in Afghanistan's future and that perhaps he could best achieve that by not running for re-election.

Karzai adds that as far as he's concerned, bringing forward new leadership in Afghanistan is very important.
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AFGHANISTAN-PAKISTAN: Afghans reluctant to leave Jalozai refugee camp
PESHAWAR, 20 March 2008 (IRIN) - Afghans in Jalozai refugee camp, Pakistan's largest refugee camp, are reluctant to leave, despite a deadline to vacate coming up in less than a month.

"I don't want to go to Afghanistan. There is nothing for me there. There are no jobs and it's not safe," 24-year-old Aman, who has lived his entire life in the sprawling community of mud-brick homes, 35km southwest of Peshawar, said.

"How could we possibly return?" Fatema Bibi, a 35-year-old mother-of-four asked. "Once we get there, how are we to live?"

Long slated for closure by the government, Jalozai, one of the oldest refugee camps in the country, is home to 80,000, many of whom have lived in the camp for decades.

Re-scheduled to close at the end of 2007, that deadline was later extended to 15 April 2008 due to the impending winter.

Under the terms of an agreement between Pakistan, Afghanistan and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), two other camps - Girdi Jungle and Jungle Piralizai in Balochistan Province - are also slated for closure in 2008.

As part of the government's plan, camp residents have the option of either repatriating to their homeland, taking advantage of UNHCR assistance, or relocating to other camps in the Punjab or North West Frontier Province (NWFP).

"UNHCR and the Commissionerate for Afghan Refugees has facilitated a 'go and see' visit for refugees in the camps if they want to take the relocation option," UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told IRIN in Islamabad. The UNHCR has established an information and counselling centre in Jalozai to help Afghans make an informed decision, he said.

Slow progress

But progress on vacating the camp has proven slow, a fact acknowledged by the government. Imran Zeb, the government commissioner for Afghan refugees, says the process will be completed by mid April, but that is not likely to be the final closure date; he cited the voluntary nature of the return process.

There are over 80 Afghan refugee camps in the country, including 71 in NWFP, 12 in Balochistan Province and one in Punjab Province.

According to UNHCR, over three million Afghans have returned to their homeland from Pakistan since the launch of the voluntary repatriation programme in March 2002, most - 1.5 million - in the first year of the programme.

Nearly two million Afghans remain in the country - one million of whom live in camps - more than seven years after the collapse of the Taliban regime in December 2001.

Since the resumption of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme at the beginning of March 2008, over 4,500 Afghans have returned home, 352 from Jalozai.
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A new girls school in Afghanistan part of NATO strategy to be both warriors and well diggers
By PAUL AMES Associated Press March 21, 2008
DEH HASSAN, Afghanistan - The little girl flashed a shy smile from under her white headscarf and stepped to the front of the class when the headmaster asked who could find Afghanistan on their new map of the world.

After a little hesitation, 11-year-old Pashtun pointed to her homeland, making a successful start to her first day at school.

Pashtun and her classmates, clearly delighted as the new school opened last week, are the face of Afghanistan that NATO would like the world to see after months of headlines dominated by the upsurge in violence that made last year the bloodiest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

Thanks to German and Scandinavian troops providing security, German aid workers could move in with funds to build the freshly painted yellow-and-white schoolhouse where 600 girls from Deh Hassan and the surrounding villages can finally get a proper education, seven years after the fall of the Taliban regime, which made it a crime to teach females.

The pursuit of such development projects alongside combat and security operations remains a key task for NATO forces and will likely be part of the discussion next week at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will attend the summit, which is due to draw up a "vision statement" laying out NATO's objectives in Afghanistan.

It aims to go beyond the squabbling among the 26-allies over contributions to the 47,000-strong NATO military force to set out a military and development strategy with a series of benchmarks to be achieved over the next five years.

They are expected to include:

_ ensuring peaceful presidential elections in 2009;

_ building up the local police and expanding the Afghan army into an effective fighting force of 80,000;

_ curtailing the booming opium trade;

_ expanding the areas free from Taliban influence.

The aim is to forge a long-term commitment that will remind increasingly skeptical publics why their soldiers are fighting and dying in a country half a world away.

"Just seven years ago, Afghanistan was the Grand Central Station of terrorism," NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in a recent speech. "If this mission were not to succeed _ and let me be very clear, it will _ Afghanistan would once again pose a clear and present danger to itself, its region and the broader international community."

NATO sees training the Afghan army as the key to an eventual reduction of the international force, but allied officials in Kabul say it's far too early to talk of an exit strategy, warning any sign of a pullout would be exploited by the Taliban.

"The opposition wants to say, 'It's no point in supporting the international community because they'll be gone soon,'" says spokesman Mark Laity. "What's absolutely fundamental is for us to get a strong message that we're supporting the Afghan government ... and we're not going anywhere."

The school in Der Hassan and similar projects are central to that strategy.

Der Hassan, a dusty village of camel herders and almond farmers, sits in a strip of desert separating the mountains of central Afghanistan from the northern border with Uzbekistan.

NATO troops are welcome in this region far from the battlefields in the south where troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force are engaged in a daily battle with the Taliban.

"It's all calm and serene here," says district Governor Alhaj Sayed Abrar. "Each step NATO takes for the reconstruction of the country is positive."

Over a lunch of palao rice, lamb and the famed local pomegranates, Abrar heaped praise on the German troops and development officials working in the district and blamed the continued violence on malign foreign influences mainly from Pakistan who exploit the deep Islamic conservatism of Afghan southerners to whip up extremism.

However, just 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Deh Hassan, German army commanders in the city of Kunduz say their previously calm sector has seen a surge in attacks since last summer, forcing Berlin to send in paratroopers to reinforce the mission.

"There's hardly any week, any day, when there is not a rocket attack," says Lt. Col. Dietmar Jeserich.

Underscoring the complexity of their task, NATO commanders are unsure if the attacks are coming from Taliban who have infiltrated the region or drug runners keen to maintain lawlessness on a key route into Central Asia.

Germany has 3,200 troops in Afghanistan, mostly in the north. The refusal of key European allies such as Germany, Italy and Spain to send forces to join the British, Americans, Canadians and Dutch who are leading the fight in the south has led to months of ugly infighting within NATO.

The demands for more troops are expected to resume when U.S. President George W. Bush joins the other allied leaders in Bucharest.

An expected announcement that France will send up hundreds of extra combat troops will go some way to meet the need. However, it's not yet clear whether the French soldiers will be sent to the south in response to Canada's threat to pull out of dangerous Kandahar province unless NATO finds 1,000 reinforcements for its beleaguered troops there.

NATO diplomats hope the leaders will agree that their soldiers will have to be both "warriors and well diggers" in Afghanistan _ fighting to achieve security then following up with speedy development to win over the local population.

To do that they will need more money as well as more troops. NATO's top commander, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, says American forces in eastern Afghanistan have made great strides undermining the Taliban threat in their region through generous development handouts.

"If you go to the east and you see all these paved roads and you see logging trucks moving back and forth and new fields of fruit trees so the farmers can get the produce back and forth," Craddock told reporters in Kabul.

"In some parts of this country more than others a little money goes a long way; you can buy a lot of projects."

The school in Deh Hassan cost the German government US$67,000 (?43,000), "the cost of a reasonably low cost luxury car in Europe," said Craddock.
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The Voice Of Turkey Radio To Broadcast For Afghanistan
turkishpress.com March 20, 2008
ANKARA - The Voice of Turkey Radio will start broadcasting programs for Afghanistan on March 21st.

The radio will broadcast in Dari Farsi and Pashtu dialects and for Uzbeks living in Afghanistan.

The program will be broadcast between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Turkish local time.

The Voice of Turkey Radio is now broadcasting in 29 different languages.

Meanwhile, Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent a message to Turkish President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, expressing his pleasure with the radio's broadcasting for his country.
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Same game, new rules in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad Asia Times Online / March 21, 2008
KARACHI - After more than six years, coalition forces in Afghanistan are preparing for an all-out offensive against the Taliban centered on their safe havens straddling the border with Pakistan.

This, allied with intensive North Atlantic Treaty Organization and US operations already this year, has led to much speculation on whether the Taliban will launch their annual spring offensive, with even senior NATO officials suggesting the Taliban will instead bunker down in a war of attrition, much as they did during a rough phase in 2004.

This will not be the case, according to Asia Times Online's interaction with Taliban guerrillas over the past few weeks. But instead of taking on foreign forces in direct battle in the traditional hot spots, the Taliban plan to open new fronts as they are aware they cannot win head-on against the might of the US-led war machine.

The efforts of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and its 47,000 soldiers from nearly 40 nations will focus on specific areas that include the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal agencies in Pakistan, as well as South and North Waziristan in that country, and Nooristan, Kunar, Paktia, Paktika and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. The ISAF is complemented by the separate US-led coalition of about 20,000, the majority being US soldiers. This does not include a contingent of 3,600 US Marine Corps who this week started arriving in southern Afghanistan. They will work under the command of the ISAF.

For their part, the Taliban, according to Asia Times Online contacts, will open new fronts in Khyber Agency in Pakistan and Nangarhar province in east Afghanistan and its capital Jalalabad.

This move follows a meeting of important Taliban commanders of Pakistani and Afghan origin held for the first time in the Tera Valley bordering the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan. (Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders famously evaded US-led forces in the Tora Bora soon after the invasion in 2001.)

Pakistan's Khyber Agency has never been a part of the Taliban's domain. The majority of the population there follows the Brelvi school of thought, which is bitterly opposed to the hardline Taliban and the Salafi brand of Islam. The adjacent Afghan province of Nangarhar has also been a relatively peaceful area.

Conversely, the historic belt starting from Peshawar in North-West Frontier Province and running through Khyber Agency to Nangarhar is NATO's life line - 80% of its supplies pass through it. From Nangarhar, the capital Kabul is only six hours away by road.

Over the past year, the Taliban have worked hard at winning over the population in this region and have installed a new commander, Ustad Yasir, to open up the front in Nangarhar.

New dimensions to the Afghan struggle

After seven years of the "war on terror" and the Iraqi experience, both "sides" have become more pragmatic. Slogans such as "shock and awe", "crusade" against Islamic extremism and "intifada" catch the headlines, but they are not getting the job done. Both sides have refined their approach aimed at achieving specific goals and targets. If NATO has acquired excellent knowledge of the Taliban's network, the Taliban and al-Qaeda have also excelled in gathering information on NATO and its allies.

Al-Qaeda has evolved from an organization that generally only allowed in Arabs and its ideology now accommodates indigenous factors. Today, Pakistani non-Pashtuns, popularly known as Punjabis, are the Pakistani franchise of al-Qaeda. They receive macro policies from the al-Qaeda shura (council) comprising Arabs, but are independent in the implementation of these policies - although an Arab in still in overall charge.

The same goes in Iraq, where al-Qaeda is now a local organization with its hub spread between Mosul, Diyala and Baquba.

At the same time, the "war on terror" extends beyond US-British dominance. Although there are several disagreements at the operation level within NATO in Afghanistan, some partners, such as France, cognizant of the revival of the enemy's strength, have greatly enhanced their input into intelligence resources.

French intelligence is directly involved in fresh moves to track the most wanted targets, including Taliban commander Sirajuddin Haqqani, Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, chief of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Tahir Yaldeshiv, besides bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri.

New funds have been allocated for clandestine operations by French intelligence in Pakistan's North and South Waziristan regions, as well as in Balochistan province, to track high-profile targets with the aim of assassinating them. This is being done in coordination with NATO forces in Afghanistan.

According to Asia Times Online investigations, French intelligence has infiltrated a network of donors who had been arranging money for the Iraqi resistance and the Taliban.

Underlying these efforts is the belief that the war cannot be won through the use of naked violence alone. The militant camps have reached a similar conclusion: their actions now are much more nuanced and calibrated and they realize there will be no quick victory.

A smooth supply of money and arms from various sources as well as thousands of new recruits have rejuvenated their cause and allowed the militants to better plan their operations and carefully select their targets. They have established good rapport within the security forces at an individual level and use these contacts whenever it is essential.

Italian job

Last weekend's attack on an Italian restaurant in the Pakistani capital Islamabad shows how deeply al-Qaeda has made inroads into the Pakistani security agencies and as a result is receiving first-hand information.

The al-Qaeda attack injured, through a time bomb, four US Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, including a senior official of counter-terrorism coordination with the Pakistani Special Intelligence Agency.

The restaurant is co-owned by an Italian woman who is the wife of a man believed to be the main financial backer of anti-Taliban Shi'ites in the northern areas of Pakistan.

More such attacks are expected.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief.
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Afghan students celebrate Navroz in Delhi
New Delhi, Mar.20 (ANI): Afghan students based in India continue to aspire for a strong developed Afghanistan, even as they celebrate the Persian New Year of Navroz in New Delhi.

The festivities held on the eve of “Navroz” were organised by the Embassy of Afghanistan in Delhi. Afghans from different walks of life living in India participated in the celebrations that were marked with lively music and scrumptious food.

Afghanistan’s Ambassador to India S Makhdoom Raheen described Afghanistan as the world’s the youngest democracy and said that India has been helpful in re-building the country.

“Fortunately Indian friends are very helpful, helping Afghanistan to re-build their destroyed country and fortunately the largest democracy of the world is standing next to and assisting the youngest democracy of the world,” he said.

Former Afghanistan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said that terrorism continues to be a threat in Afghanistan and the situation at this time is a mixed one.

“It is for the people of a country to decide about their destiny, about their future, the people have opted for democracy, a moderate Islamic country a system for which people could live together with one another on peace as well as the rest of the region. That’s the choice of the people, but at the same time we are all aware that the terrorism is a big threat to our people and has ended the life of the people and have taken some chances, which were there so all together I would say that it’s a mix picture at this stage,” he said.

Afghan students studying in India, however, said they were hopeful about Afghanistan’s emergence as a peaceful, democratic and developed country.

“My dream about Afghanistan is one day I can see my country very much developed like other countries calm, peaceful and everyone would try to be like Afghanistan. That’s my dream and that’s how every Afghani is trying to do for Afghanistan, specially the new generations who have migrated to India through ICCR scholarships. They are doing their level best and their results are high and I think they are trying to fulfill their dream,” said Zamalludin, an Afghan student.

Navroz which is the traditional Iranian new year holiday is widely celebrated in Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Albania, Armenia, as well as among various other Iranian and Turkic peoples in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, Northwestern China, the Caucasus, the Crimea, and the Balkans.

Navroz marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the Iranian year.
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Afghanistan: Most provinces 'opium free' says US official
Rome, 19 March(AKI) - A top US official fighting for drug crop eradication in Afghanistan claims that most of the country is on its way to being opium free.

"The good news is that geographically, most of Afghanistan is now going poppy free," said Tom Schweich, coordinator of counternarcotics and justice reform in Afghanistan in an interview with Adnkronos International (AKI).

"We estimate that by the end of this growing season (May and June), 26 out of 34 Afghan provinces will either have no poppy or very low poppy," said Schweich.

However, Schweich (photo) says that "in five or so southern provinces where there is a lot of Taliban activity there seems to be a very serious poppy growing problem."

While visiting Rome, Schweich met with Italian law enforcement authorities to discuss the issue of justice reform in Afghanistan as well as the problem of heroin and cocaine in the country.

Schweich told AKI that he met with Italian prosecutor Piero Grasso and discussed cooperation schemes to disrupt international organised crime

According to Schweich, half of all illegal opium ends up in Iran, while the rest is equally divided between bordering countries.

Schweich also talks about the level of coordination with Afghanistan's neighbours to eradicate the trafficking and crop cultivation and mentions having a "close collaborative relationship" with Pakistan.

In regards to Iran, Schweich had some harsher words:

"The United States does not have [diplomatic] relations with Iran, so we do not coordinate with them."

"We have serious problems with the Iranians," he said to AKI.

On a possible links between poppy growing and the insurgency, Schweich says that indeed "there is a close link and is becoming closer", as well as the fact that profits from the poppy crop "are funding the insurgency."

Moreover, Schweich no longer sees poppy cultivation associated with poverty like it was a few years ago.

When asked about the strategy used in Afghanistan to rid the country of poppy growing, Schweich said: "We want to make sure the population sees specific development assistance rewards for having done so."

"I think we need a tough programme of taking out high value targets and eradicating the fields of those farmers who are wealthy and well connected to show them there are law enforcement capabilities in those areas," said Schweich.

Schweich also said that for 2008, he does not expect an increase in poppy production, "but I suspect it will be the same or maybe lower than last year."

Schweich also commented on an Italian proposal to use poppy cultivation for legal uses and why the proposal did not work.

"We analysed that proposal very carefully," he told AKI.

"We found that the price of legal opium is way below the price of illegal opium,"

As a result, any buyout scheme would have to be heavily subsidised.

"So there is no incentive to switch to a legal opium scheme when the price is so low for legal opium."

A buyout would then cost billions of dollars per year as more farmers began growing.

Despite the difficulties encountered, Schweich remains hopeful and calls on the international community to remain united.

"We are cautiously optimistic. The signs in the north and east [of Afghanistan] are good and is important that the international community remain unified on the need to have a balance of 'carrots and sticks' and get rid of it [opium cultivations]."
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New 'Bin Laden tape' threatens EU
Thursday, 20 March 2008BBC News
In a new audio message purportedly from Osama Bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader threatens the EU over the re-printing of a cartoon offensive to Muslims.

The voice on it says the cartoon, re-published recently in all major Danish newspapers, was part of a crusade involving Pope Benedict XVI.

The drawing, first published in 2005, depicts the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.

The voice on the audio has not yet been verified as belonging to Bin Laden.

The message comes on the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But the BBC's Jonathan Beale in Washington says that the message was probably released to not to mark that anniversary, but rather the anniversary of the birth of Prophet Muhammad, which Sunni Muslims mark on Thursday.

It appeared on a Islamist website that has carried al-Qaeda messages in the past.

Over the audio is a graphic with a still image of Bin Laden holding an AK-47 and bearing the logo of al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda. There is a written translation of the message in English.

'Crowd pleaser'

John Pike, director of the defence think tank GlobalSecurity.org, said bin Laden had chosen to talk about the cartoon in an effort to remain relevant and provide direction to followers.

"His judgement is that it's a consistent crowd-pleaser, and that if he has any hope of getting people stirred up, this is probably a good way to try to do it."

Last month, Denmark's leading newspapers reprinted one of 12 cartoons that first angered many Muslims when they were originally published in September 2005.

Anger in the Muslim world peaked in 2006 as newspapers in other countries published the cartoons.

Some of the protests turned violent and led to the torching of Danish diplomatic offices in Damascus and Beirut and dozens of deaths in Nigeria, Libya and Pakistan.

The Danish newspapers decided to republish the most controversial drawing after Danish intelligence said it had uncovered a plot to kill the cartoonist.

The re-printed drawing shows the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Islamic law forbids any representation of the Prophet.

The message attributed to bin Laden says the attacks of Europeans on women and children "paled [in comparison] when you went overboard in your unbelief and... went to the extent of publishing these insulting drawings.

"This is the greatest misfortune and the most dangerous," the voice says.

"If there is no check on the freedom of your words, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions".

It is not clear when the message was recorded. The last audio message attributed to Bin Laden appeared in November but he has not been seen on video since October 2004.

He is believed to be in hiding on the rugged border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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