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French satirical paper firebombed after publishing Mohammed cartoon

media Cartoonist Luz brandishes a copy of Charlie Hebdo in front of the burnt … Reuters/Benoit Tessier

The offices of French satirical paper Charlie Hebdo were hit by an apparent arson attack overnight just ahead of the publication of an edition carrying a front-page cartoon of the prophet Mohammed.

The paper’s issue published Wednesday announced that the Islamic prophet was “guest editor” to “honour” the success of the Islamist Ennahda party in Tunisia’s election and the new Libyan government’s announcement that Islamic sharia would be the basis for the country’s legal system.

No one was injured in the fire, which the paper’s editor, Stéphane Charbonnier said Wednesday was caused by a Molotov cocktail. But staff say that vital equipment has been seriously damaged, making it impossible to use them to produce next week’s issue.

“There’s no question of letting the Islamists go unchallenged so we will carry on,” said Charbonnier, whose nom de plume is Charb.

The police have told staff that two people were seen in the area shortly before the fire started, he said.

Charlie Hebdo’s issue this week renamed itself Charia Hebdo and featured a cartoon of the prophet Mohammed threatening “Ten lashes if you don’t die of laughter” on its front page.

An editorial questioned whether Islamist parties had any place in a democracy.

Charbonnier claimed that the paper was not seeking to be provocative.

News of the issue was already circulating on social networks on Monday, arousing several indignant responses.

Pirates attacked the paper’s website on Wednesday, replacing the usual content with a photograph of a mosque and a Koranic verse in English. Later in the day it was blank apart from the message "it works!".

Politicians and religious leaders have condemned the attack.

“We condemn this arson attack but also what Charlie Hebdo did,” Paris regional Muslim council president Hassan Moussaoui declared.

The leader of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, Jean-François Copé, called the fire “nothing less than a terrorist attack on a paper in a country which should incarnate free speech".

Charlie Hebdo started in the 1970s as an anarchistic satirical weekly and has become increasingly militant in its secularism, leading some to accuse it of Islamophobia.

A Paris court in 2006 threw out an attempt to condemn its former boss, Philippe Val, for “racist insults” after the paper republished the controversial Danish cartoons of Mohammed.

In 2009 Val became director of the public radio station, France Inter.

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