Paper 'firebombed' after Muhammad cartoon
Paris - The offices of a French satirical newspaper that published a special Arab Spring edition with the Prophet Muhammad on the cover as "guest editor" were destroyed in a suspected firebomb attack on Wednesday.
The attack came after Charlie Hebdo renamed the weekly newspaper Charia (Sharia) Hebdo for the occasion and featured a front-page cartoon of the prophet saying: "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter!"
The newspaper's website also appeared to have been hacked, with its regular home page replaced with a photo of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and a message reading: "No god but Allah". The website was later unavailable.
French officials were quick to denounce the attack and offer support to the newspaper.
"Freedom of expression is an inalienable right in our democracy and all attacks on the freedom of the press must be condemned with the greatest firmness. No cause can justify such an act of violence," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said in a statement.
Fillon said he had asked Interior Minister Claude Gueant to ensure "all light is shed on the origin of this fire and that its perpetrators be prosecuted."
At the scene, Gueant told journalists: "Of course everything will be done to find the perpetrators of this attack, and this must certainly be called an attack."
Police said the fire at the newspaper's offices in eastern Paris started around 02:00 GMT. No one was injured in the blaze, which a police source said was suspected to have been caused by a petrol bomb.
The magazine's publisher, known only as Charb, said he was convinced the fire was linked to the special edition.
"On Twitter, on Facebook, we received several letters of protest, threats, insults," which had been forwarded to the police, he said.
"This is the first time we have been physically attacked, but we won't let it get to us."
Gueant said "all leads will be pursued" in the investigation, including threats made against the newspaper by Muslim fundamentalists.
"The investigation will determine who was responsible for this and, I hope, allow us to quickly find the guilty parties so they can be brought to justice."
In a statement, the newspaper said it was "against all religious fundamentalism but not against practising Muslims."
"We are for the Arab Spring, against the winter of fanatics," it said, adding later that all 75 000 copies of the edition had quickly sold out.
The weekly had said it would publish a special edition to "celebrate" the Ennahda Islamist party's election victory in Tunisia and the transitional Libyan executive's announcement that Islamic Shariah law would be the country's main source of law.
It would feature the prophet Mohammed as guest "editor", the newspaper said.
As well as the cover cartoon, a back-page drawing featured Muhammad wearing a red nose and accompanied by the words: "Yes, Islam is compatible with humour."
The depiction of the prophet's face is strictly prohibited in Islam.
A Paris court in 2007 threw out a suit brought by two Muslim organisations against Charlie Hebdo for reprinting cartoons of Muhammad that had appeared in a Danish newspaper, sparking angry protests by Muslims worldwide.
The head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, Mohammed Moussaoui, condemned the attack.
"If this was a criminal fire, we firmly condemn it," he told AFP.
Documents and equipment were strewn outside the newspaper's offices after the fire, an AFP reporter said, and windows and glass doors were broken at street level and on the first floor.
"Our problem now is to be able to put a paper out next Wednesday," Charb said. "There is soot everywhere, the computers are in my opinion dead, the electrical system is melted."
The managing editor of left-leaning newspaper Liberation, Nicolas Demorand, said on Twitter that Charlie Hebdo's editorial team would temporarily move into his newspaper's offices until they could find a new home.