Lewd Muhammad Cartoons Force France to Shut Down Embassies

A magazine's cartoons prompt France to close embassies in the wake of riots over an anti-Muslim film.


Publishing director Stephane Charbonnier displays the front page of the newspaper containing crude caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday, which prompted the French government to shut down 20 foreign embassies.

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France will close foreign embassies and schools Friday in anticipation of backlash from cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet Muhammad published by a French magazine, the Associated Press reports.

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The cartoons, which variously portray Muhammad as naked or in a wheelchair, are expected to provoke the Muslim world, where riots were sparked last week by a crude YouTube video portraying its prophet as a child molester and womanizer.

The French government attempted to persuade the controversial weekly Charlie Hebdo from publishing the images, but Wednesday they appeared on newstands uncensored. In response, the government sent riot police to the magazine's Paris offices and ordered the immediate closure of the French embassy and school in Tunisia, where last week's protests were particularly violent. Another 20 foreign embassies will be closed Friday, the Muslim holy day.

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The territory is somewhat familiar for Charlie Hebdo. Its Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 after the magazine published another cartoon ridiculing Muhammad. Its chief editor, Stephane Charbonnier, who drew the front-page cartoon for Wednesday's issue, has been under police protection for more than a year. In 2006, the magazine reprinted a Danish cartoon of Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, which also sparked uproar in the Muslim community.

Charbonnier told Reuters he believes a few radical Muslims should not be able to scare people into silence, and said he expected demand for the issue to double the magazine's usual 35,000 copies.

France's precautions aim to prevent the cartoons from inciting the kind of reaction that occurred last week, when four U.S. diplomats were killed in Libya during protests against an anti-Muslim movie. At least 40 people died in similar protests at more than 20 U.S. embassies across the world, from Sudan to Indonesia to Pakistan.

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On Tuesday, Islamic militants carried out a suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed 12 as revenge for the film, and al Qaeda leaders in North Africa called for more attacks on U.S. diplomats and embassies in North Africa.

Seth Cline is a reporter with U.S. News and World Report. Contact him at scline@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.