PARIS: A firebomb attack gutted the headquarters of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo Wednesday after it put an image of the Prophet Mohammad on its cover. This week’s edition shows a cartoon of Mohammad and a speech bubble with the words: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter.” It has the headline “Charia Hebdo,” in a reference to Muslim Shariah Law, and says Mohammad guest-edited the issue.
Charlie Hebdo’s website Wednesday appeared to have been hacked and showed images of a mosque with the message “No God but Allah.”
Many Muslims object to any representation of Allah or Mohammad, or to irreverent treatment of the Quran, and such incidents have inflamed protests in the past, sometimes violent.
Danish cartoons of Mohammad in 2005 sparked unrest in the Muslim world in which at least 50 people were killed. An American pastor’s burning of a copy of the Quran led to protests in Afghanistan in April in which several died.
Police said nobody was injured in the fire that broke out at about 1 a.m. (midnight GMT) in the office building that houses Charlie Hebdo. Windows were broken on the ground floor and first floor and fire damage was visible inside.
“The building is still standing. The problem is there’s nothing left inside,” Stephane Charbonnier, editor of Charlie Hebdo, told Europe 1 radio.
The main representative body of the Muslim faith in France, the French Muslim Council (CFCM), denounced the attack while also faulting the satirical publication.
“The CFCM deplores the deeply mocking tone of the newspaper toward Islam and its prophet, but reaffirms with force its total opposition to any act or form of violence,” the group said in statement.
Tareq Oubrou, head of the Association of Imams of France, also condemned the attack. “This is an inadmissible act,” he told French television station i-tele.
“Freedom is very important. It is nonetheless important to underline the sensitivity of the situation we face today … I call on Muslims to treat this lucidly and not succumb to what they consider as provocations regarding their religion … I personally call on Muslims to keep an open mind and not take this too seriously.”
Charlie Hebdo has got into deep water on similar issues in the past. Former editor Philippe Val was pursued in the French courts on charges of racial injury after its publication of three Danish cartoons in 2006. He was acquitted.
“Freedom of expression is an inalienable value of democracy and any incursion against press freedom must be condemned with the utmost force. No cause justified violent action,” French Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement.
French Interior Minister Claude Gueant told reporters at the scene of the blaze that everything would be done to find the perpetrators of the attack.
“You like or you don’t like Charlie Hebdo but it’s a newspaper. Press freedom is sacrosanct for the French,” Gueant said.
The editor of the left-wing daily Liberation offered to house Charlie Hebdo staff and to publish work its cartoonists had prepared ahead of this week’s meeting of G-20 leaders in Cannes, southern France.
“It’s clear that it’s impossible to put together a paper in these conditions. For next week we will find offices elsewhere,” Charlie Hebdo editor Charbonnier said.
“In any case there is no question that we will give ground to the Islamists. We will continue,” Charbonnier added.