The brothers who attacked French magazine Charlie Hebdo may have been gunned down but the real murderer is still at large, the satirical weekly has claimed, in a special edition marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly ambush of its Paris offices.
The cover of the commemorative issue, which will be released on Wednesday and have an initial print run of a million copies, features a bearded man representing God with blood on his hands and a Kalashnikov on his back.
Hovering above his head is a triangle containing the "all-seeing eye of God" — a symbol of divine omniscience also associated with Masonic iconography.
The caption above the cartoon reads: "One year on: the murderer is still on the run."
The image, which was authored by French cartoonist Riss — who took over the position of managing editor after the January attacks — has already sparked a flurry of reactions.
One of the people who has criticized the cartoon is French journalist Nicolas Hénin, who was held captive by Islamic State (IS) militants for 10 months. Speaking Monday to French radio France Info, Hénin said the cartoon played into the hands of terrorists and "gave legitimacy" to their claims. "It is like saying that God is behind all of this […]," he said, "it is like saying that the terrorists are in God's hands."
For Hénin, an expert on Jihadist movements and the author of a book called Jihad Academy, "reducing terrorism to its religious aspect is a disaster. […] This is exactly what the terrorists want: to be granted religious legitimacy."
'A lot of people were hoping we'd get killed'
Riss also penned the anniversary issue's editorial — an angry plea in favor of secularism. Titled "Die, Charlie! Live, Charlie!," the op-ed takes a shot at all religions, equally. "Yes, a lot of people were hoping we'd get killed. K-I-L-L-E-D," writes Riss, pointing an accusing finger at "fanatics hypnotized by the Koran" and other "holy asses."
"They wished the hell they believe in upon us for daring to laugh at religion," he wrote, adding that he and his colleagues' life work would not be destroyed by "two little masked pricks."
"The convictions of atheists and secularists can move larger mountains than the faith of believers," he concluded.
The anniversary issue will also contain unpublished drawing by slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists Cabu, Wolinski, Charb, Tignous and Honoré. Other contributors include French Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, and actresses Isabelle Adjani and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
'I regret that Charlie was not reformed'
The last year has been fairly chaotic for the editorial staff of the controversial weekly, which unwittingly became an international free speech icon in the wake of the January 2015 attacks.
Dubbed "the survivors' issue," the magazine's first issue after the attacks sold nearly 7.5 million copies — a far cry from the weekly's usual 30k print run. The cover of the survivors' issue featured a tearful Prophet Mohammed under the caption "All is forgiven."
The Kouachi brothers killed twelve people when they stormed the weekly's headquarters during an editorial meeting on the morning of January 7, 2015.
In the aftermath of the attack, the magazine's internal structure became riddled with cracks. Riss became the major stakeholder, now owning two-thirds of Charlie Hebdo.
"I regret that Charlie was not reformed," contributor Laurent Léger recently told AFP. The magazine's owners, he said, had "missed a unique opportunity to recreate a participatory newspaper, driven by team spirit and open to all."
Cartoonist Luz, who was left badly shaken by the attacks, left the newspaper in September, along with another star associate — doctor and contributor Patrick Pelloux, who famously provided first aid to colleagues on the day of the shooting.
In April, the two men urged management to implement a new governance structure and to let employees become shareholders of the magazine. The two contributors explained that they opposed the idea that "a handful [of individuals] would take control" of the weekly.
Speaking to AFP Sunday, Charlie Hebdo co-owner and financial director Eric Portheault said that the staff of the magazine felt "desperately lonely."
"No one else does what we do, protecting republican values till the end — like secularism, for example," he said.
Yet despite the magazine's staffing and morale issues, the weekly is in good financial health these days. Sales are steady — each issue sells around 100k copies — and Charlie Hebdo currently has nearly 183,000 subscribers.
The magazine also has 20 million euros ($22 million) in the bank thanks to the donations received from all over the world in the wake of the attacks. In mid-December, the magazine announced that it had paid out 4 million euros ($4.4 million) to the families of the victims.
The 17 people who died in the wave of attacks that brought the country to a standstill last January will be honored this week in Paris.
Commemorative plaques will be unveiled at the sites of the various attacks and French president François Hollande is due to assist a public memorial on January 10, on Place de la République.
A 10-metre-high oak tree will be planted on the square to remember those who lost their lives in the attacks.
Follow Pierre Longeray on Twitter : @PLongeray
Image via Twitter