With protests raging across the Middle East following the release of an anti-Islamic film, a French magazine whose offices have been firebombed in the past for offending Muslims has published cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.
Charlie Hebdo published the pictures on Wednesday despite fears that they could raise the ire of the French Muslim population, the largest in Western Europe, and of Muslims worldwide. In France, riot police were reportedly placed on alert and began patrols outside the Paris offices of the humor and satire magazine.
The cover of the magazine depicts an elderly ultra-Orthodox Jew pushing a crippled Muslim man in a wheelchair with the caption “Intouchables 2,” an allusion a recent French film. In the inner pages of the magazine, caricatures feature Muhammad in a series of “daring positions,” the French daily Le Figaro reported.
According to Reuters, the cartoons include “nude caricatures” of the prophet.
Authorities appealed to the satirical Charlie Hebdo’s editors to act responsibly and halt the publication of the caricatures, with French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issuing a statement expressing his “disapproval of all excesses,” but the editors insisted that they were merely exercising freedom of the press.
The magazine is no stranger to controversy. Late last year, Charlie Hebdo published an edition that featured the prophet Muhammad as a “guest editor.” The issue sparked widespread demonstrations, and the offices of the magazine were firebombed in what was widely assumed to be a revenge attack.
The magazine’s website was inaccessible throughout Wednesday morning.
The publication of the new cartoons comes as the Muslim world continues to simmer with violent protests over an anti-Muslim film produced in the US by extremist Christians. Last week, the American ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, was killed along with three others in an attack in Benghazi. In Egypt and Yemen, protesters stormed US embassies.
Depicting Muhammad in images is forbidden under Islamic law and highly offensive to religious Muslims. In 2005, Danish cartoons of the prophet sparked riots across the Muslim world that killed over 50.