A French magazine ridiculed the Prophet Mohammad on Wednesday by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to fuel the anger of Muslims around the world who are already incensed by a video depicting him as a lecherous fool.
The drawings in the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo risked exacerbating a crisis that has seen the storming of U.S. and other Western embassies, the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and a deadly suicide bombing in Afghanistan.
Riot police were deployed to protect the paper’s Paris offices after it hit news stands.
It featured several caricatures of the Prophet showing him naked in what the publishers said was an attempt to poke fun at the furore over the film. One, entitled “Mohammad: a star is born”, depicted a bearded figure crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals.
The French government, which had urged the weekly not to print the cartoons, said it was shutting embassies and schools in 20 countries as a precaution on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the drawings outrageous but said those who were offended by them should “use peaceful means to express their firm rejection”.
Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, condemned what it called an act of “aggression” against Mohammad but urged Muslims not to fall into a trap intended to “derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West”.
In the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, one person was slightly hurt when two masked men threw a small explosive device through the window of a kosher supermarket. Police said it was too early to link the incident to the cartoons. One small local Muslim group filed a legal complaint against the weekly but there were no reports of reaction on the streets of France.
The posting on YouTube last week of a crude video, made in California, that mocked Mohammad as a womanising buffoon has sparked protests in many countries, some of them deadly.
The U.S. envoy to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi, and U.S. and other foreign embassies were attacked in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims.
The furore has emerged as an issue in the U.S. presidential election campaign and sparked international debate over free speech, religion and the right to offend. Many Muslims consider any representation of Allah or the Prophet Mohammad blasphemous.