French magazine Charlie Hebdo has slammed God as a Kalashnikov-wielding terrorist in a hard-hitting commemorative edition a year after it was decimated by Islamist terrorists, with the caption: One Year On, the Killer is Still at Large.
French religious leaders criticised the satirical magazine's latest content as gratuitously "hurtful" to believers.
With a print run of a million copies, and tens of thousands more to be dispatched overseas, today's anniversary edition will contain cartoons by five star cartoonists among 12 people slain at its offices on January 7, 2015. The edition will also contain contributions from Fleur Pelerin, the Culture Minister, with the actresses Juliette Binoche, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Isabelle Adjani and intellectuals including Russell Banks.
Judging by extracts released in the French press, the magazine has lost none of its anti-clerical vitriol; the issue includes an impassioned editorial slamming "fanatics made stupid by the Koran" and other "blessed arses from other religions" who "supported" killing Charlie journalists for "daring to laugh at religion".
"We're not going to let little balaclava-clad scumbags ruin a lifetime's work," wrote editor Laurent Sourisseau. "The convictions of atheists and secularists can move more mountains than the faith of believers," said Sourisseau, who was wounded in last year's attack.
Anouar Kbibech, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, CFCM, said he was "hurt" by the issue while Abdallah Zekri of the Watchdog against Islamophobia group said it was "very violent and insulting towards religions". Catholic Abbot Pierre Amar of Versailles said: "Among the dead were believers who were buried in churches. Victims' families will be insulted."
Claimed by al-Qaeda's branch in the Arabian Peninsula, last January's attack came after a 2011 firebombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices that forced it to move premises. Its staff had also been under police protection since it published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in 2006.
A month before the attack, Charlie Hebdo was on the verge of bankruptcy with circulation below 30,000. But 7.5 million people bought the "survivors' issue" a week after the attacks and 200,000 people signed up for a subscription to support freedom of expression.
The slogan "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) also became a global rallying phrase in social networks after 4 million people, including world leaders, took to the streets of Paris to pay tribute to the dead.
Today, however, the newspaper's financial director, Eric Portheault, has said staff at the magazine feel isolated and unsupported.
"We feel terribly alone. We hoped that others would do satire, too. No one wants to join us in this fight because it's dangerous. You can die doing it," he told AFP.
The special issue of Charlie Hebdo comes in a week marked by a string of tributes to the 17 who died at the magazine and a Jewish grocery in Vincennes, eastern Paris, two days later. President Francois Hollande was to unveil commemorative plaques outside the magazine and the Hyper Cacher store.
Portheault said the November 13 attacks, along with the anniversary, had "brought everything back up to the surface".
"But we won't give up. We don't want them to have died for nothing.
"There is no question of self-censorship, otherwise it would mean they [the attackers] have won," Portheault said.