By Phil Stewart
VATICAN CITY, Dec 18 (Reuters) - The Vatican on Tuesday rejected condemnation by al Qaeda of a historic meeting between Pope Benedict and Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, saying the militants were afraid of inter-religious dialogue.
Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahri, referred to Benedict as a Pontiff who had "insulted Islam and Muslims" and criticised King Abdullah’s meeting with him last month.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Zawahri’s video-taped comments, posted on the Internet on Sunday, showed al Qaeda’s was worried about the implications of the meeting - the first between a Pope and a Saudi monarch.
The Pope was also pursuing dialogue with a group of prominent Muslim scholars, including Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad bin Talal, Lombardi noted.
"These people want dialogue and are working toward peace," Lombardi said. "This worries those who don’t want dialogue."
Zawahri has previously denounced the Pope for a speech he made last year at a university in his native Germany, when the Pontiff used a quote that associated Islam with violence.
Muslims around the world complained about the speech, but the Pope said he was misunderstood and has several times expressed his esteem for Muslims.
In the latest message, Zawahri noted that Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Al al-Sheikh was quick to condemn jihad in Iraq but not the Saudi king’s visit with Benedict.
"Wouldn’t have it been more appropriate for this mufti who rules according to the school of Bush to reproach his so-called guardian (King Abdullah) for his visit with the Pope," Zawahri asked, quoted by U.S. terrorism monitoring organisation IntelCenter.
"Is this how the moderate creed and confrontation of polytheism is supposed to be?", he added.
Lombardi said the entire episode showed that dialogue and pursuit of peace were "gaining more weight and this is undoubtedly a positive factor". (Additional reporting by Philip Pullella in Vatican City and Lin Noueihed in Dubai, Editing by Matthew Jones)