The French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo will feature the Prophet Muhammad on the cover of its next issue, due to be published Wednesday, and has planned an unprecedented print run of up to 3 million copies.
Michael Salion, a spokesman for the magazine’s distributor, said that 1 million issues would be available Wednesday and Thursday. Another 2 million could then be printed depending on demand.
“We have requests for 300,000 copies throughout the world – and demand keeps rising by the hour,” Salion said. “The million will go. As of Thursday, the decision will probably be taken to print extra copies… So we’ll have one million, plus two if necessary.”
The issue is the magazine’s first to be published since 12 people, including eight of its staffers, were murdered by two Islamist gunmen linked to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Late Monday, the website of the left-wing newspaper Liberation revealed the issue’s cover, which depicts the Prophet Muhammad. In the cartoon, Muhammad is shown with a tear streaming down his cheek, and holding a sign: “Je Suis Charlie” — “I Am Charlie.” Overhead is the phrase “Tout est pardonne”, or “All is forgiven.” French media have interpreted the latter message to mean that Muhammad is forgiving the cartoonists for lampooning him.
The New York Times reported late Monday that the cover was drawn by cartoonist Rénald Luzier, known professionally as “Luz”. When he showed the drawing to his co-workers, the paper reported, he was greeted with laughter, applause and ironic shouts of “Allahu akbar!”
“We asked ourselves: ‘What do we want to say? What should we say? And in what way?'” Gerard Biard, a top Charlie Hebdo editor, told the paper. “About the subject, unfortunately, we had no doubt.”
“Three million people will have Muhammad’s, the prophet’s drawing, at home,” Zineb El Rhazoui, a columnist for Charlie Hebdo, told the BBC on Tuesday. A typical print run for Charlie Hebdo is 60,000 issues, with about half that number sold.
Charlie Hebdo’s past caricatures of the Muslim prophet appear to have prompted last week’s attacks, part of the worst terrorist rampage in France in decades. A total of 12 people were killed at the newspaper’s offices by Said and Cherif Kouachi, French-born brothers who had trained with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Some witnesses reported that the attackers at the paper’s offices shouted “We have avenged the prophet.” Many Muslims believe all images of Muhammad are blasphemous.
The New York Times reported that work began on the new issue this past Friday, just two days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo’s office. Baird said the remaining staff quickly decided not to produce a memorial issue, though work from all five staff cartoonists killed on Wednesday will be featured.
French police said Monday that as many as six members of a terrorist cell involved in the attacks may still be at large.
France saw its biggest demonstrations in history Sunday as millions turned out to show unity and defend freedom of expression.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.