REPORTING FROM PARIS -- The headquarters of a satirical French newspaper was damaged by fire early Wednesday as a controversial special edition poking fun at Islamic law in Libya and Tunisia was set to hit newsstands, officials said.
A fire apparently sparked by one or two Molotov cocktails melted computers, destroyed archives and burned the first two floors of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper’s offices in Paris about 1 a.m., officials said. There were no reported injuries and authorities said they had no suspects as of Wednesday afternoon.
The special issue, which the paper said was "guest edited" by the prophet Muhammad, covers the recent victory of the Islamist Nahda party in Tunisian elections, as well as the announcement by Libyan leaders that Sharia law would form the basis for its future legislation.
The cover drawing of a bug-eyed character wearing a turban is accompanied by the words, “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!”
In the days before publication, chat forums and the media were abuzz with complaints and reports of threats to the newspaper because of the weekly’s choice of content.
Muslim groups condemned the violence Wednesday, while deploring the way Islam and its prophet were depicted.
Newspaper staff members standing outside the building said they were covering “the new direction” they felt the Arab Spring had taken.
“We don’t have an aggressive approach, and we supported the Arab Spring, but we simply always comment on the news,” said Valerie Manteau, a Charlie Hebdo editor. “I understand a lot of people feel insulted, but it’s no reason for violence. . . . I’m not ashamed of what we did.”
-- Devorah Lauter
Photo: A man shows the Charlie Hebdo issue on Islamic law following a fire at the newspaper's Paris offices Wednesday. Credit: Marc Piasecki / Getty Images