Al-Qaeda in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, saying the Islamist militant group’s leadership ordered it for insulting the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, according to a video posted on YouTube.
“As for the blessed Battle of Paris, we, the Organisation of al-Qaeda al Jihad in the Arabian Peninsula, claim responsibility for this operation as vengeance for the Messenger of God,” said Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, a leader of the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQAP) in the recording.
Gunmen killed 17 people in three days of violence that began when they opened fire on the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo in revenge for the paper’s past publication of satirical images of the Prophet.
Ansi, the main ideologue for AQAP, said the “one who chose the target, laid the plan and financed the operation is the leadership of the organisation”, without naming an individual.
He added without elaborating that the strike was carried out in “implementation” of the order of overall al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has called for strikes by Muslims in the West using any means.
AQAP is led by Nasser al-Wuhayshi, who is Zawahri’s number two in the network’s global hierarchy.
“We did it in compliance with the command of Allah and supporting His Messenger, peace be upon Him,” Ansi added.
It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the recording, which carried the logo of al-Qaeda’s media group al-Malahem.
New edition sold out
The first edition of Charlie Hebdo published after the attacks by Islamist gunmen sold out within minutes at newspaper kiosks around France on Wednesday, with people queuing up to buy copies to support the satirical weekly.
“I’ve never bought it before, it’s not quite my political stripes, but it’s important for me to buy it today and support freedom of expression,” said David Sullo, standing at the end of a queue of two dozen people at a kiosk in central Paris.
A print run of up to three million copies has been set for what has been called “the survivors’ edition”, dwarfing the usual 60 000 run. But still, many outlets were selling out fast.
“It’s important for me to buy it and show solidarity by doing so, and not only by marching,” said 42-year-old Laurent in the same queue, adding that he was not guaranteed a copy because he had not reserved one the day before.
A few blocks away, at Jules Joffrin metro station in northern Paris, a newspaper seller said people were already waiting outside her shop when she opened at 6am. “I had 10 copies – they were sold immediately,” she said.
The newsagent at Gare du Nord railway station said it opened at 5.15am instead of the usual 6am, and its 200 copies sold out in less than 15 minutes.
At least 3.7-million people marched through Paris on Sunday to honour the memory of the journalists, police officers and supermarket customers who died.
The front page of Charlie Hebdo‘s January 14 edition shows a cartoon of a tearful Muhammad with a sign “Je suis Charlie [I am Charlie]” below the headline: “Tout est pardonné [All is forgiven]”.
“I wrote ‘all is forgiven’ and I cried,” Renald “Luz” Luzier, who created the image, told a news conference on Tuesday at the weekly’s temporary office at left-wing daily Liberation.
“This is our front page … it’s not the one the terrorists wanted us to draw,” he said. “I’m not worried at all … I trust people’s intelligence, the intelligence of humour.”
Grand Mufti warning
The weekly’s usual irreverent humour was on display inside the paper. One cartoon shows jihadists saying: “We shouldn’t touch Charlie people … otherwise they will look like martyrs and, once in heaven, these bastards will steal our virgins.”
“What makes us laugh most is that the bells of Notre Dame rang in our honour,” the newspaper, which emerged from the 1968 freedom movement and has long mocked religion and pillars of the establishment, wrote in an editorial.
All proceeds from the sale of this week’s edition will go directly to Charlie Hebdo, in a windfall for a publication that had been struggling financially, after distributors decided to waive their cut. The cover price was €3. A call for donations has been aired on national media.
In Charenton on the eastern outskirts of Paris, queues formed in the early morning darkness at the normally quiet newspaper stand near the metro, until people got closer to a notice at the door saying: “Charlie Hebdo: none left”.
The newspaper seller said he hoped to get more copies on Thursday but was not taking reservations.
Digital versions will be posted in English, Spanish and Arabic, with print editions in Italian and Turkish.
At a news briefing on Tuesday, United States state department spokesperson Marie Harf said: “We absolutely support the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish things like this. Again, that’s what happens in a democracy. Period.”
But Egypt’s Grand Mufti warned the newspaper against publishing a new caricature of the Prophet, saying it was a racist act that would incite hatred and upset Muslims around the world.
French comedian fined
Meanwhile, a French comedian was detained for questioning on Wednesday for posting on his Facebook page that he felt “Charlie Coulibaly”, a word play combining the widespread “I am Charlie” vigil slogan and the name of one of the three gunmen.
Prosecutors launched an inquiry on potential charges of glorifying terrorism against Dieudonne M’bala M’bala, who has already faced accusations of anti-Semitism and has mocked the killing of US reporter James Foley by Islamic State militants.
Dieudonne garnered international attention last year when former France striker Nicolas Anelka celebrated an English Premier League goal with a salute popularised by him and which critics say has an anti-Semitic connotation.
Amedy Coulibaly, whose name inspired the joke, killed a female police officer and four customers of a kosher shop last week in Paris, two days after the attack on Charlie Hebdo.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week that European officials should work more closely with internet companies to eliminate hate speech and content glorifying terrorism.
Dieudonne, the Paris-born son of a Cameroonian father and French mother, says he is not anti-Semitic. He has been fined repeatedly for hate speech in France, where local authorities in several towns have banned his shows as a threat to public order.
His lawyer, Jacques Verdier, told BFM-TV that arresting him for the “Charlie Coulibaly” comment was “completely out of proportion”. If condemned for glorifying terrorism, Dieudonne could face up to seven years in jail and a €5 000 fine. – Reuters, Staff reporter