Prophet on cover, Charlie Hebdo's new edition irks Muslim groups

  • AFP, Paris
  • Updated: Jan 14, 2015 14:02 IST

French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo returns to newsstands with a record run on Wednesday, but its first edition since Islamist gunmen massacred its staff has already drawn ire from Muslim groups.

The front cover shows a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed holding a sign that says "Je suis Charlie" ("I am Charlie"), the slogan taken up by millions of supporters around the world after 12 people were gunned down in an attack on the magazine's Paris offices.

A man holds a placard reading 'Freedom of the press is priceless, fundamentalism, of any kind, will not pass' as others hold up placards reading in French, 'I am Charlie' during a gathering at the Place de la Republique (Republic square) in Paris, on January 7, 2015. AFP Photo

France, home to Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim communities, was shaken to the core last week when jihadists took to Paris's streets in an Islamist killing spree that left 17 people dead in the country's bloodiest week in decades.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday declared a "war against terrorism" and a packed parliament sang a stirring rendition of the national "Marseillaise" anthem, a first since the end of World War I.

President Francois Hollande earlier led a solemn ceremony paying tribute to the three police officers who lost their lives in the attacks, while in Israel thousands turned out to mourn the four Jews killed during a siege in a kosher supermarket.

"Our great and beautiful France will never break, will never yield, never bend" in the face of the Islamist threat that is "still there, inside and outside" the country, Hollande told weeping families and uniformed colleagues of the victims.

Controversial weekly Charlie Hebdo, which lampoons everyone from the president to the pope, has become a symbol of freedom of expression in the wake of the bloodshed.

The magazine is planning to print up to three million copies of its "survivors' issue" -- profit from which will go to victims' families -- far more than its usual 60,000 and a historic record for a French publication.

"Our Mohammed is, above all, just a guy who is crying," said cartoonist Renald Luzier, known as Luz, who designed the new front cover. "He is much nicer than the one followed by the gunmen."

French President Francois Hollande, center, flanked with security forces gestures, as he arrives outside the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's office, in Paris, on January 7, 2015. (AP Photo)

French and Italian versions will be printed, while translations in English, Spanish and Arabic will be offered in electronic form, editor-in-chief Gerard Biard said.

A Turkish version will also be published as an inset in the centre-left opposition daily Cumhuriyet, one of the Turkish paper's journalists said, in what Biard described as "the most important" of all the foreign editions.

"Turkey is in a difficult period and secularity there is under attack," he told AFP.

'Stir up hatred'

But the cartoon has already drawn ire from Muslim groups, who warned that it could inflame tensions among those who believe the depiction of the prophet is blasphemous.

Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam's most prestigious centre of learning, warned that new cartoons would only serve to "stir up hatred".

The drawings "do not serve the peaceful coexistence between peoples and hinders the integration of Muslims into European and Western societies," the Cairo-based body's Islamic research centre said in a statement.

Egypt's state-sponsored Islamic authority, Dar al-Ifta, said the cover was "an unjustified provocation against the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims".

"This edition will result in a new wave of hatred in French and Western society," it said.

French Muslim groups also urged their communities -- which have already been targeted -- to "stay calm and avoid emotive reactions" to the cartoon.

A man holds a placard reading "freedom of expression" during a rally in support of the victims of terrorist attack on French satyrical newspaper Charlie Hebdo at the Place de la Republique in Paris, on January 7, 2015. (AFP Photo)

France's Prime Minister Manuel Valls, in a speech that drew several standing ovations, called for the country to pull together after the attack, arguing that "France is at war against terrorism, jihadism, radicalism... (not) Islam and Muslims".

"I don't want Jews in this country to be scared, or Muslims to be ashamed" of their faith, he added, calling for France's intelligence capabilities and anti-terrorism laws to be strengthened and "clear failings" addressed.

Questions have risen over how supermarket killer Amedy Coulibaly and the Charlie Hebdo gunmen, Said and Cherif Kouachi -- who were known to French intelligence had been on a US terror watch list "for years" -- had slipped through the cracks.

Underlining the ongoing threat, France's biggest satirical weekly, "Le Canard Enchaine", said it received a death threat the day after the Charlie Hebdo attack.

'They died for our freedom'

The outpouring of shock and grief that has united France and saw some four million people march across the country on Sunday, continued Tuesday as several victims were buried.

At the main police headquarters in Paris, a grim-faced Hollande laid the country's highest decoration, the Legion d'Honneur, on the coffins of the three fallen police officers draped in the Tricolore.

Two were killed during the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the policewoman was gunned down by Coulibaly the next day at the scene of a car accident in which he was involved. Many believe he was on his way to attack a Jewish school nearby.

"They died so that we could live in freedom," Hollande said.

About 30,000 people take part in a unity rally (Marche Republicaine) on January 11, 2015 in the western French port of Brest in tribute to the victims of the three-day killing spree that ended on January 9, 2015. (AFP Photo)

The French attacks have sent shockwaves throughout Europe and beyond.

German President Joachim Gauck told his country's Muslim community Tuesday that "we are all Germany" at a rally by 10,000 people to condemn the Paris jihadist attacks and take a stand against rising Islamophobia.

European Union counter-terrorism chief Gilles de Kerchove told AFP that jails had become "massive incubators" of radicalisation and there was no way to fully shield against such attacks.

Coulibaly, a repeat offender, met Cherif Kouachi in prison where they both fell under the spell of a renowned jihadist.

While the Kouachis have been linked to the Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Coulibaly claimed to have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State.

To ease fears in a nation still jittery after its worst attacks in half a century, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that some 10,000 troops will be deployed to protect sensitive sites.

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