x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Fire at French newspaper following Prophet Mohammed insult

Satiric French newspaper had 'invited' the Prophet Mohammed to be a guest editor earlier this week.

PARIS // A fire early on Wednesday caused serious damage at the headquarters of a satiric French newspaper that "invited" the Prophet Mohammed to be a guest editor this week.

A police official said the fire broke out overnight at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the cause remained unclear. No injuries were reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an investigation into the fire is under way.

Police cited a witness saying that someone was seen throwing two firebombs at the building.

The director of the newspaper, who uses the name Charb, said on BFM television that "the material damages are large" and said many computer files were destroyed. He stood in front of piles of scorched papers and equipment.

He claimed on France-Info radio that someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the building, in a working class district of eastern Paris, and now "we don't have a paper." He said, however, that Charlie Hebdo would not stop publishing.

The fire, around 1am, was quickly contained, but a large part of new offices on two levels were heavily damaged and equipment used by journalists to produce the paper was inoperable, a police official said.

Technicians from the police lab began their investigation hours after the fire, taking fingerprints and various samples from the site of the paper.

Newspaper employees said they had received numerous threats as a result of the issue, subtitled "Sharia Hebdo," in reference to Islamic law.

The front-page of the weekly showed a cartoon-like man with a turban, white robe and beard smiling broadly and saying, in an accompanying bubble, "100 lashes if you don't die laughing".

Page 2, called "Sharia Madame," was made up of a series of cartoons featuring women in burqas. And the paper's tongue-in-cheek editorial, signed "Mohammed," following on page 3, centred on the victory last week of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party in the nation's first free election - and said that the party's real intention was imposing Islam not democracy.

Each page contained "a word from Mohammed" in the corner and spoofed the news by twisting it into the weekly's current theme.

Leading French politicians, citing the right to freedom of expression, condemned the attack on the paper.

Newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper triggered protests in Muslim countries.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the Prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.