The first edition of Charlie Hebdo after an attack by Islamist gunmen sold out within minutes on Wednesday, featuring cartoons of a tearful Prophet Muhammad on a cover that defenders called a moving work of art but critics saw as a new provocation.
French readers queued up at dawn for copies to show support for the newspaper, even as al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it ordered the killings because it deemed the weekly had insulted the Prophet Muhammad.
Across the Middle East, Muslim leaders who have denounced the attack on the newspaper called for calm, while criticising its decision to publish a fresh caricature of Prophet Muhammad.
Millions of copies of the “survivors’ edition” were printed in France, dwarfing the normal print run of 60,000. On the cover, a tearful Muhammad carried a sign reading “Je suis Charlie,” below the headline “All is forgiven.”
Inside, the weekly’s irreverent humour was on full display. One cartoon showed jihadists saying: “We shouldn’t touch Charlie people … otherwise they will look like martyrs and, once in heaven, these bastards will steal our virgins.”
“What makes us laugh most is that the bells of Notre-Dame rang in our honour,” read an editorial in the newspaper, which emerged from the 1968 counter-culture movement and has long mocked all religions and pillars of the establishment.
David Sullo, standing at the end of a queue of two dozen people at a kiosk in central Paris for a copy, said it would be the first time he had ever bought it.
“It’s not quite my political stripes, but it’s important for me to buy it today and support freedom of expression.”
A few streets away, a newspaper seller said people were already waiting outside her shop when she opened at 6:00 am.
Prime Minister Manuel Valls, himself a frequent target of the weekly’s caricatures, was seen leaving the government’s weekly cabinet meeting with a copy tucked under his arm.
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“BATTLE OF PARIS”
Two Islamist gunmen killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7. A third gunman later killed a policewoman and seized a kosher supermarket, killing four civilians. All three attackers were killed in police raids.
In a video posted on YouTube, Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch said its leadership had ordered last Wednesday’s attack.
“As for the blessed Battle of Paris, we, the Organisation of al Qaeda al Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula, claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger of God,” said Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, the main ideologue of the group in Yemen.
Ansi said the strike was carried out in “implementation” of an order of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the recording.
Defenders praised the cover for remaining true to the newspaper’s satirical mission, proclaiming its right to free speech while maintaining an appropriately mournful tone and a peaceful message.
“I wrote ‘all is forgiven’ and I cried,” Renald “Luz” Luzier, who created the image, told a news conference on Tuesday at the weekly’s temporary office at left-wing daily Liberation.
“This is our front page … it’s not the one the terrorists wanted us to draw,” he said. “I’m not worried at all … I trust people’s intelligence, the intelligence of humour.”
Jonathan Jones, an art critic for Britain’s Guardian newspaper, called the cover “a life-affirming work of art”.
“Funny people were killed for being funny. This new cover is the only possible response – a response that makes you laugh,” he wrote. Belgium’s Le Soir wrote: “Not publishing the edition would have been like a second death for the victims.”
But across the Middle East it was branded a new provocation that could create a backlash.
Such cartoons “fuel feelings of hatred and resentment among people” and publishing them “shows contempt” for Muslim feelings, said the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestinian lands, Mohammed Hussein, in a statement.
Algeria’s independent Arab language daily Echorouk responded with a front page cartoon of its own, showing a man carrying a “Je suis Charlie” placard next to a military tank crushing placards from Palestine, Mali, Gaza, Iraq and Syria.
Above, the headline reads: “We are all Mohammad”.
While many in the Middle East were angry, Samir Mahmoud, a retired engineer in Cairo, said it was time to move on: “The cartoons have no meaning, they should not affect us. We as Muslims are bigger and stronger than some cartoon.”
All proceeds from the sale of this week’s edition will go directly to Charlie Hebdo, a windfall for a publication that had been struggling financially.
Newspapers in several European countries reprinted the weekly’s front page. In Turkey, a secular opposition newspaper printed excerpts from the Charlie Hebdo edition but balked at including the cover image depicting Mohammad. Police cordoned off its headquarters over security concerns.
While many French people enthusiastically supported the weekly’s decision to put another cartoon of Mohammad on its cover, there were some who objected or expressed concern that it would provoke more tension.
The Justice Ministry said more than 50 investigations into glorification of terrorism had been launched since last week’s attacks.
Dieudonne M’bala M’bala – a French comedian convicted in the past for anti-Semitic comments – was detained for questioning on Wednesday over charges of glorifying terrorism for writing on his Facebook account “Je suis Charlie Coulibaly”. Coulibaly is the surname of one of the gunmen.
Bordeaux mosque rector Tareq Oubrou urged French Muslims not to overreact to the new cartoons.
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“I don’t think the prophet of Islam needs stupid or excited reactions,” he told BFM-TV. “Freedom has its downsides and we must live with them.”
France will announce next week a new set of anti-terrorism measures, officials said. New resources will be released for surveillance and France could look at widening the policy of isolating radical prisoners. One of the gunmen was jailed for 18 months for trying to go to Iraq to fight a decade ago.
Francois Hollande, the most unpopular French president in survey history over his failure to kickstart the economy, has come out of the crisis well, with 85 percent of French approving of his handling of it, a poll showed on Wednesday.
($1 = 0.8473 euros)