PARIS A French satirical weekly whose office was fire bombed after it printed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad has reproduced the image with other caricatures in a special supplement distributed with one of the country's leading newspapers.
The weekly Charlie Hebdo defended "the freedom to poke fun" in the four-page supplement, which was wrapped around copies of the left-wing daily Liberation on Thursday, a day after an arson attack gutted Charlie Hebdo's Paris headquarters.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place hours before an edition of Charlie Hebdo hit news stands featuring a cover-page cartoon of Mohammad and a speech bubble with the words: "100 lashes if you don't die of laughter."
The weekly, known for its irreverent treatment of the political establishment and religious figures, bore the headline "Charia Hebdo," in a reference to Muslim sharia law, and said that week's issue had been guest-edited by Mohammad.
The incident pits Europe's tradition of free speech and secularism against Islam's injunction barring any depictions seen as mocking the prophet. The publication of cartoons of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 sparked unrest in the Muslim world in which at least 50 people were killed.
While French Muslim groups criticized Charlie Hebdo's work, they also condemned the fire-bomb attack. The head of the Paris Mosque, Dalil Boubakeur, told a news conference on Thursday: "I am extremely attached to freedom of the press, even if the press is not always tender with Muslims, Islam or the Paris Mosque."
"French Muslims have nothing to do with political Islam," he said.
Abderrahmane Dahmane, a Muslim former presidential adviser on religious diversity, said he was not shocked by the Charlie Hebdo front-page and joked himself about the matter.
"We have a sense of humor in the world of Islam ... what we sometimes say about Islam and the prophet, among ourselves and in the presence of Imams, is worse than what Charlie Hebdo wrote," he quipped.
Following the fire bombing, Charlie Hebdo staff moved temporarily into the offices of Liberation. The two publications jointly produced Thursday's supplement, which reproduced the Charlie Hebdo cartoon in an article on the back page.
One headline in the supplement said: "After their office blaze, this team defends the 'freedom to poke fun'."
"We thought the lines had moved and that maybe there would be more respect for our satirical work, our right to mock. Freedom to have a good laugh is as important as freedom of speech," Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier said in the supplement.
The supplement included several new drawings by Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. In one, a prophet-like figure tries to restrain his billowing robes in a pose reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe as a draft blows up from Charlie Hebdo newspapers below him. Another shows an airborne fire-bomb with a face in the flames and the caption, "So, is this how you see the prophet?"
France has Europe's largest Muslim community, numbering about five million out of an overall population of 65 million. The country has a deep tradition of official secularism and adopted a ban this year on women wearing face-covering veils in public.
Charbonnier told Reuters his newspaper planned to print another 175,000 copies of this week's edition in the coming days after the first print run of 75,000 copies sold out fast.
Luz, the cartoonist who drew the cover cartoon at the center of the controversy, said it was still unclear who had carried out the attack.
"Let's be cautious. There's every reason to believe it's the work of fundamentalists but it could just as well be the work of two drunks," he said in the Thursday supplement.
(Additional reporting by Chine Labbe; Editing by Geert De Clercq and Jon Hemming)