In a move that is certain to draw anger from the Muslim community, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has printed a set of cartoons featuring the prophet Mohammed, including at least one depicting the prophet naked.
The cover of Charlie Hebdo shows a Muslim in a wheelchair being pushed by an Orthodox Jew under the title Intouchables 2, referring to an award-winning French film about a impoverished black man who helps an aristocratic quadriplegic. Another cartoon on the back page of the weekly magazine shows a naked Mohammed exposing his backside to a film director.
According to HuffPo, Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were fire bombed last November after it published similar mocking caricatures of Mohammed.
Sky News reported the magazine's editor, a former cartoonist named Stephane Charbonnier, denied he was being deliberately provocative with the images, "but rather using its freedom of expression to comment (on) the news in a satirical way."
"The freedom of the press, is that a provocation? I'm not asking strict Muslims to read Charlie Hebdo, just like I wouldn't go to a mosque to listen to speeches that go against everything I believe."
In response the magazine's decision to run the controversial cartoons, the French government, which had urged Hebdo not to print the images, said it was temporarily shutting down premises including embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.
"I am against all provocations, especially during a period as sensitive as this one. I do not see any usefulness in such provocation," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the radio station France Info. "There must be freedom of speech, but I am absolutely opposed to any provocation."