The bitter background to the Charlie Hebdo massacre

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The attack by gunmen on the offices of Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday came almost nine years after the French satirical magazine found itself at the centre of a fierce controversy for first reproducing in France the so-called ‘Prophet Muhammad caricatures’ originally published in a Danish newspaper. Charlie Hebdo has since continued to publish cartoons that mock Islamic fundamentalism, prompting the anger of a section of Muslims in France and abroad, and which led to a devastating firebomb attack on its offices in 2011. The magazine has regularly defended its position as that of a satirical publication that is equally irreverent towards the hypocrisies of all religions. Dan Israel traces the bitter background to Wednesday’s horrific outrage.

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There was a blood-chilling irony in a sketch that appeared in this week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo, which went on sale on Wednesday morning just hours before the murderous attack on the satirical magazine's offices in north-central Paris. The sketch (see below) was by Charb, the pen name of Charlie Hebdo's editor, Stéphane Charbonnier, who was among the 12 people shot dead during the attack. Below the line reading “Still no terrorist attacks in France”, which referred to the tension that built up over fears of a possible attack during the festive season, it shows an armed jihadist who says: “Wait, one has until the end of January to present New Year’s greetings”.