Fire at French newspaper after Muhammad satire

A fire causes serious damages at the headquarters of a satiric French newspaper that "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as a guest editor this week.
A police officer stands in front of the headquarters of satiric French newspaper Charlie Hebdo, after fire broke out early Wednesday. (Thibault Camus/Associated Press)

A fire early Wednesday caused serious damages at the headquarters of a satiric French newspaper that "invited" the Prophet Muhammad as a guest editor this week.

A police official said the fire broke out overnight at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and the cause remains unclear. No injuries were reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because an investigation into the fire is under way.

Police cited a witness saying that someone was seen throwing two firebombs at the building.

The director of the newspaper, who uses the name Charb, said on BFM television that "the material damages are large" and said many computer files were destroyed. He stood in front of piles of scorched papers and equipment.

He claimed on France-Info radio that someone threw a Molotov cocktail into the building, in a working class district of eastern Paris, and now "we don't have a paper." He said, however, that Charlie Hebdo would not stop publishing.

The fire, at about 1 a.m. local time, was quickly contained, but a large part of new offices on two levels were heavily damaged and equipment used by journalists to produce the paper were inoperable, a police official said.

Technicians from the police lab began their investigation hours after the fire, taking fingerprints and various samples from the site of the paper.

Newspaper employees said they had received numerous threats as a result of the issue, subtitled "Sharia Hebdo," in reference to Islamic law.

'100 lashes if you don't die laughing'

The front-page of the weekly showed a cartoon-like man with a turban, white robe and beard smiling broadly and saying, in an accompanying bubble, "100 lashes if you don't die laughing."

Page 2, called "Sharia Madame," is made up of a series of cartoons featuring women in burqas, the face-covering robes. And the paper's tongue-in-cheek editorial, signed "Muhammad," follows on page 3, centred on the victory last week of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party in the nation's first free election — and saying that the party's real intention is imposing Islam not democracy.

Each page contains "a word from Muhammad" in the corner and spoofs the news by twisting it into the weekly's current theme.

Leading French politicians, citing the right to freedom of expression, condemned the attack on the paper.

Newspaper cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in 2005 by a Danish newspaper triggered protests in Muslim countries.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.