Charlie Hebdo flies off shelves as Qaeda claims attack

14th January 2015, Comments 0 comments

Charlie Hebdo made a defiant return on Wednesday with a new issue that sold out across France in record time, as Al-Qaeda posted a video claiming last week's deadly attack on its cartoonists.

The satirical magazine once again featured the Prophet Mohammed on its cover -- but with a tear in his eye, holding a "Je Suis Charlie" sign under the headline "All is forgiven".

Many Parisians joined long queues outside newspaper kiosks in the pre-dawn cold to get their hands on one of 700,000 copies released in a run that will eventually total five million.

"This issue is symbolic, it represents their persistence, they didn't yield in the face of terror," said Catherine Boniface, a 58-year-old doctor, disappointed to have come up empty-handed at one Paris newstand.

Al-Qaeda's Yemen branch (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attack by Islamist gunmen on the Paris offices of the weekly last Wednesday that left 12 people dead including the country's best-loved cartoonists.

"(AQAP) was the party that chose the target and plotted and financed the plan... It was following orders by our general chief Ayman al-Zawahiri," said one of its leaders in the video, adding it was "vengeance" for the weekly's cartoons of the prophet.

Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi who carried out the attack are known to have trained with the group.

Amedy Coulibaly, who killed a policewoman and attacked a Jewish supermarket in attacks he said were coordinated with the Kouachi brothers, has claimed links to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

IS on Wednesday described Charlie Hebdo's decision to print another Mohammed cartoon as "extremely stupid".

Under government orders to crackdown on hate crimes, French prosecutors have opened over 50 cases for condoning terrorism since the attacks that claimed 17 lives, including the arrest of controversial comedian Dieudonne Mbala Mbala.

He is due to stand trial after writing "I feel like Charlie Coulibaly" on Facebook -- mixing the popular "Je Suis Charlie" homage to the slain journalists with a reference to the supermarket gunman.

Under France's ultra-fast-track court system, a 21-year-old in Toulouse was sent to prison for 10 months on Monday for expressing support for the jihadists while travelling on a tram.

- Hurt feelings -

Some global Muslim leaders have criticised the new cartoon, with the Qatar-based International Union of Muslim Scholars saying "it is neither reasonable, nor logical, nor wise to publish drawings and films... attacking the prophet of Islam."

The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Hussein said the cover was an insult that "has hurt the feelings of nearly two billion Muslims all over the world".

But many have taken a nuanced stance and tried to calm tensions, with French Muslim leaders urging their communities -- which have already been targeted -- to "stay calm and avoid emotive reactions".

Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Western "shortsightedness" and "support for terrorism" in the revolt against his rule were to blame for last week's attacks.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Tuesday the country was now engaged in a "war on terrorism", in remarks reminiscent of former US president George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

France has deployed armed police to protect synagogues and Jewish schools and called up 10,000 troops to guard against other attacks.

But Valls stressed that Muslims would always have a home in France.

"I don't want Jews in this country to be scared, or Muslims to be ashamed" of their faith, he said.

He admitted France's intelligence capabilities and anti-terrorism laws needed to be strengthened and "clear failings" addressed.

The three gunmen were known to French intelligence and on a US terror watch list "for years".

Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws reported that Coulibaly bought all their weapons -- including assault rifles and a rocket launcher -- near the Gare du Midi station in Brussels for less than 5,000 euros ($7,000).

- Farewell to Cabu -

France bade farewell to one of its most beloved cartoonists on Wednesday. Cabu, 76, one of the eight journalists killed at the magazine, was buried in the Champagne region.

Charlie Hebdo's surviving staff moved into the offices of Liberation newspaper to compile the new issue, which they admitted had been an emotional experience.

Cartoonist Renald "Luz" Luzier said he cried after drawing the front cover.

"Our Mohammed is above all just a guy who is crying. He is much nicer than the one (worshipped) by the gunmen," he said.

Distributors quickly boosted the print run from an initial three million after the sales rush on Wednesday -- dwarfing its normal run of around 60,000 copies, and the edition will also be available in English, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and Turkish.

Proceeds will go to victims' families.

Charlie Hebdo, which last month did not have enough money to pay staff wages, could raise as much as 10 million euros in sales and donations since the attack.

US Secretary of State John Kerry will meet French President Francois Hollande on Friday to discuss the attacks. The United States did not send a senior official to the historic march against extremism on Sunday, which the White House has admitted was a mistake.

© 2015 AFP

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