The French satirical newspaper whose Paris offices were attacked in 2015 is reprinting the controversial caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad that the gunmen who opened fire on its editorial staff cited as their motivation.
The move was announced on Tuesday, a day before 13 men and a woman accused of providing the attackers with weapons and logistics go on trial on charges of terrorism on Wednesday.
In an editorial this week accompanying the offensive caricatures, the paper said the drawings “belong to history, and history cannot be rewritten nor erased”.
The January 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo and, two days later, a kosher supermarket, touched off a wave of killings claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group across Europe.
Seventeen people died in the attacks – 12 of them at the editorial offices – along with all three attackers.
The attackers, brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi, claimed their attack on the newspaper in the name of al-Qaeda. As they left the scene at Charlie Hebdo, they killed a wounded policeman and drove away.
Two days later, a prison acquaintance of theirs stormed a kosher supermarket on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, claiming allegiance to ISIL. Four hostages were killed during the attack.
The Kouachi brothers had by then holed up in a printing office with another hostage. All three attackers died in near-simultaneous police raids.
The supermarket attacker, Amedy Coulibaly, also killed a young policewoman.
The decision to republish the cartoons will be seen by some as a defiant gesture in defence of free expression. But others may see it as a renewed provocation by a publication that has long courted controversy with its satirical attacks on religion.
The caricatures re-published this week were first printed in 2006 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, setting off sometimes violent protests by some Muslims who found the depictions offensive.
The Prophet Muhammad is deeply revered by Muslims and any kind of visual depiction is forbidden. The caricatures were perceived as linking him with terrorism.
Charlie Hebdo, infamous for its irreverence and accused by critics of racism, regularly caricatures religious leaders from various faiths and republished them soon afterwards.
The paper’s Paris offices were firebombed in 2011 and its editorial leadership placed under police protection, which remains in place to this day.
Laurent Sourisseau, the newspaper’s director and one of the few staff to have survived the attack, named each of the victims in a foreword to this week’s edition.
“Rare are those who, five years later, dare oppose the demands that are still so pressing from religions in general, and some in particular,” wrote Sourisseau, also known as Riss.
The president of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM), Mohammed Moussaoui, urged people to “ignore” the cartoons, while condemning violence.
The suspects, who go on trial from 08:00 GMT on Wednesday, are accused of providing various degrees of logistical support to the killers.
The trial had been delayed several months with most French courtrooms closed over the coronavirus epidemic.
The court in Paris will sit until November 10 and, in a first for a terrorism trial, proceedings will be filmed for archival purposes given public interest.
National anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard dismissed the idea that it was just “little helpers” going on trial since the three gunmen were now dead.