The drawing appears in Studi Cattolici, a monthly magazine with links to the ultra-conservative Roman Catholic group, Opus Dei. It shows the poets Virgil and Dante on the edge of a circle of flame looking down on Mohammed.
"Isn't that man there, split in two from head to navel, Mohammed?" Dante asks Virgil.
"Yes and he is cut in two because he has divided society," Virgil replies. "While that woman there, with the burning coals, represents the politics of Italy towards Islam."
Cesare Cavalleri, the editor of the magazine, said last night that he had not meant to cause offence. "If, contrary to my intentions and those of the author, anyone felt offended in his religious feelings, I freely ask him in a Christian manner for forgiveness."
That was a marked change of tone from an earlier statement, when he said: "We must not fear freedom of opinion." If the cartoon provoked an attack, it would only confirm "the idiotic positions" of Muslim extremists.
"This is not a cartoon against Mohammed. It is a cartoon which addresses the loss of the West's identity.
"Why all the fuss over a cartoon which only represents that which has already been written centuries ago by Dante Alighieri?"
Apr 17, 2006
Cartoon controversy, part deux
A cartoon of Mohammed in Hell has reignited the world's Muslims.