The first issue of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo since 12 died in a terror attack at its offices was released on Wednesday morning to massive demand.
A record three million copies of the journal, which featured an image of the Prophet Muhammed on its cover, were scheduled to be printed in 16 different languages, but demand appeared to be even steeper than anticipated and the journal was an instant sellout.
The decision to again publish a cartoon of the prophet has stoked debate around the world. Many hailed it as an important defense of free expression and an act of defiance against the extremists attempting to silence the magazine, while others decried it as a divisive act that was unnecessarily offensive to millions of Muslims.
Large queues of people gathered outside news kiosks in central Paris long before they opened, then disappeared whenever Charlie Hebdo stocks ran out only to reassemble at another nearby that still had copies. Many vendors said their supplies lasted just minutes.
Laurent, a gallery attendant waiting in a queue of more than 70 in Place de la Republique for a kiosk to open, told VICE News that he had wandered from spot to spot for over an hour in an attempt to buy the magazine.
When the stall finally did open, crowds rushed in before the owner had a chance to unpack the journal from the bundles it arrived in.
There was a sense amongst the assembled crowd that this was an important act of solidarity. Regis, a restaurant worker, told VICE News that he had got up early on his day off even though he wasn't a habitual Charlie Hebdo reader. Earlier in the morning, a man who had managed to secure a copy said he had woken up at 5.30am because he knew of an early opening kiosk that would stock the magazine.
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi stormed the magazine's central Paris headquarters last week and murdered 12 — including its editor and four cartoonists — in the worst terrorist act committed on French soil in decades. The Kouachis said they wanted to avenge Charlie Hebdo's regular lampooning of the prophet Muhammed, something that strict Muslims regard as blasphemous.
Terrorist group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the attacks in a video posted on Wednesday. In the footage a commander Nasr al-Ansi said the killings were "vengeance for the prophet" and threatened future "tragedies and terror."
In typical provocative style, the cover of the latest Charlie Hebdo is a cartoon of the prophet shedding a tear while holding a sign that says "Je suis Charlie," the slogan which has become popular around the world as a declaration of solidarity with the victims of the attack. A headline above reads "All is forgiven." It was drawn by the weekly journal's cartoonist Luz, who escaped the massacre because he was late arriving for work.
The Islamic State militant group condemned the decision to publish the image as "extremely stupid."
"Charlie Hebdo has again published cartoons insulting the prophet and this is an extremely stupid act," the group said in a statement on its Al-Bayan radio broadcast in its self-declared "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria.
Inside the 16-page issue are previously unpublished works by cartoonists killed in the attack, satirizing a range of religious and political targets. One written article focuses on conspiracy theories after fringe social media discussion on the killings being a "false flag" operation, while another looks at the failure of anti-terrorism measures — the Kouachis were on government watch lists and were reportedly under surveillance.
Also included is a cartoon report on the massive solidarity march held on Sunday as a shocked France came to terms with both the massacre and separate attacks by another gunman linked with the brothers that killed five.
An editorial opines that all who said "Je suis Charlie" were effectively identifying with secularist beliefs.
This edition will be sold for two weeks instead of the usual one and was produced in the offices of French left wing daily Libération. The paper's Isabelle Hanne was present at Charlie Hebdo's first editorial meeting since the attack and reported that staff were determined make a "normal" issue using only existing staff members.
Editor in chief Gérard Biard told France Info radio on Monday that the process had been a difficult one. "We wondered how to stay the same, how to continue to laugh with an event that hit us so hard," he said.
Both distributors and vendors of the magazine had anticipated high demand in the lead up to the latest edition's release. Basile Albatin, a Syrian who runs a sandwich shop turned newsagent in the center of Paris, told VICE News on Tuesday that on a usual week he sold at most 50 copies of Charlie Hebdo but had taken 200 preorders in the last four days alone. "I'm not sure that there will be enough for everyone tomorrow morning," he said.
Simon, who runs a news kiosk at the Place de la Republique, the starting point for Sunday's unity march, told VICE News that he rarely sells more than two or three Charlie Hebdos in a seven-day stretch but that 150 customers had reserved copies since Monday. As a result he had ordered 400. "This is an important day," he said. "Not just for kiosk owners, but for all those who love freedom."
Eric Desmarey, commercial director of Charlie Hebdo distributor MLP, told VICE News that despite the record print run the company had struggled to cope. "We are overwhelmed by the demand from newsagents, from kiosk owners, from companies that want to sell or give it to their employees, and even from individuals," he said, adding that MLP was prepared to print still more if there was demand.
In order to deal with the unprecedented numbers, as well as for security reasons, production is being spread across a number of sites in the Paris region. The location of the presses is being kept secret so as not to make them a target and security forces are present at each.
300,000 copies of this Charlie Hebdo will be sent overseas. Just 4,000 usually make it beyond French borders and MLP's Director of Marketing and Communication Marie-Cécile Rigaultsaid said the demand had been surprising. "(There's been a) flood of requests emanating from foreign countries where we do not usually ship such as Australia and New Zealand," she told VICE News.
On Wednesday morning, there were already reports of copies being sold for hundreds of dollars on eBay.
The new cover has stirred controversy once again.
The French Council of the Muslim Faith appealed for restraint and the Union of Islamic Organisations of France called on the country's Muslim community to "remain calm and avoid emotional reactions."
Elsewhere, however, Muslim leaders have condemned the caricature. Egypt's foremost Islamic authority, the Grand Mufti, described the cover as "racist," while an Islamic educational authority in the country said it was "an unjustified provocation to the feelings of 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide."
An Egyptian newspaper seller in Paris told VICE News that he expected there to be problems at home, but not in France. "Here, it is not a problem, [the cartoons] are just an opinion," he said.
In the UK, radical preacher Anjem Choudray said the depiction of the prophet was "an act of war" which would lead to "repercussions."
Newspapers including the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian have reproduced the cover online, while the front page of Tuesday's issue of French daily Le Monde included a cartoon of religious leaders reading a copy of the issue with Muhammed clearly visible. Others, including The New York Times, chose not to include it.
Turkish police raided the printing press of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet ahead of its planned distribution of a four-page selection of the new Charlie Hebdo, according to local media.
Additional reporting by Pierre Longeray and Etienne Rouillon.