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French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, which was targeted by gunmen on Wednesday, is no stranger to controversy, extremist threats and violence.
The anti-religious, left-wing magazine has no qualms about offending people. From publishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad that sparked Middle East riots in 2005 to renaming an edition "Shariah Hebdo" and listing Islam's prophet as its supposed editor-in-chief, the weekly has repeatedly caricatured Muslims and their beliefs.
Politically left-libertarian, it has gleefully fired barbs at other religions, such as the Catholic Church when it was mired in child sex abuse scandals several years ago, and devotes even more space to lampooning politicians on the right and left. On New Year's Eve, it published a caricature of a dog having sex with the leg of French President Francois Hollande, while on Dec. 20 it published a cartoon of the Virgin Mary giving birth to Jesus, who was depicted with a pig nose.
But its attacks on Muslims have caused the most controversy, including the firebombing of its offices in 2011 after its "Shariah Hebdo" edition. "Hebdo" is French slang for a weekly newspaper. In 2012, France was forced to close its embassies and schools in 20 countries after the magazine published cartoons of Muhammad. Muslims regard depictions of the prophet Muhammad as blasphemous.
Charlie Hebdo’s chief editor since 2009, Stephane Charbonnier — known as Charb — was on an al Qaeda hit list, according to a 2013 report in Slate. "This is a satirical paper produced by left-wingers and when I say left-wingers that goes all the way from anarchists to communists to Greens, Socialists and the rest. Above all it is a secular and atheist newspaper," Charb told Reuters in 2012.
The magazine was sued in 2007 by two French Muslim associations after reprinting 12 cartoons critical of Islam that were originally published by the Danish publication Jyllands-Posten. A French court rejected the case, saying Charlie Hebdo’s decision to reprint the cartoons did not incite religious hatred. The BBC reported the magazine’s chief editor at the time, Philippe Val, as saying the ruling was a victory for secular Muslims. “This debate was necessary,” he said.
Many of its cartoonists started in the 1960s on Hara-Kiri magazine, which openly proclaimed its aim to be "inane and nasty." It was banned in 1970 after printing a mock death notice for General Charles de Gaulle, only to reappear months later under the name Charlie Hebdo.
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- Matthew Grimson
Reuters contributed to this report.