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Weekly firebombed over edition satirising Islamists

French police stand in front of the damaged offices of satirical magazine
French police stand in front of the damaged offices of satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo" in Paris

Benoit Tessier / REUTERS

The office of a satirical French weekly was firebombed just before an edition that pokes fun at Islamists was due for release, report IFEX members. At 1am on 2 November, unidentified attackers threw a Molotov cocktail through a window of the "Charlie Hebdo" offices, acting on rumours about the issue.

The editor of "Charlie Hebdo", Stephane Charbonnier, explained the issue was intended to raise concern, using satire, that the goals of the Tunisian and other "Arab Spring" revolutions could be derailed by Islamic extremist agendas, report the Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) and the International Press Institute (IPI).

The special issue was "edited" by Prophet Mohammed, whose name was signed after a satirical editorial, and its contents poked fun at Sharia law, burkas and Tunisia's newly elected Ennadha party, according to CRNI and IPI. On the cover was a cartoon of Prophet Mohammed, which says in French, "1,000 lashes if you don't die laughing."

According to the BBC, the publication had a long history of making light of numerous religions, including Christianity.

"Attacking the magazine's facilities because of a rumour and not an actual publication of the cartoon raises the ante in the battle between free speech and Islamic fundamentalists to a new level," said Robert Russell, the executive director of the CRNI. He also expressed concern that European and, to a lesser extent, U.S. media outlets, don't defiantly stand up to attacks on free expression by Islamic fundamentalists.

Sara Yasin, an editorial assistant at Index on Censorship, also expressed concern the attack could lead to further self-censorship regarding topics and depictions that may offend Muslim fundamentalists. She cited a 2008 incident in which Random House pulled out of a publishing deal for fears a fictionalised novel about one of Allah's wives would result in violence against the company or staff.

"Charlie Hebdo" is defiantly continuing to distribute its special "Charia Hebdo" issue and says it will print an additional run of 75,000 papers to fill the demand. French newspaper "Liberation" is temporarily housing the weekly's staff as they continue to work on more issues.
Many IFEX members also worry the attack will lead to hatred against Muslims. "Reacting in this way only serves to increase tension and ignorance of all kinds," said Jean-François Julliard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which also offered to house "Charlie Hebdo" after the fire.
Staff at "Charlie Hebdo" have also been threatened by numerous anonymous Facebook and Twitter users, according to CRNI. Hackers put an image of the Grande Mosque in Mecca and the message "No God but Allah" on the magazine's homepage, according to RSF. The magazine was forced to suspend its Facebook page after thousands of hostile messages and threats, says RSF.

Numerous French Muslim leaders condemned the attack, according to news reports.

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    The offices of "Charlie Hebdo" were almost completely destroyed by a criminal fire caused by a molotov cocktail; the attack happened on the day the magazine published a special edition called "Sharia Weekly" to "celebrate the victory" of the Islamist party Ennahda in Tunisia.

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