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Charlie Hebdo and the Muhammad cartoons row

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14:52 CET+01:00

The suspected firebombing of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo is the latest twist in the six-year-old controversy over images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad published by Western media.

The involvement of Charlie Hebdo, which has built its reputation on attacking both religious and political leaders of all complexions, dates back to its decision to publish the images of the prophet in 2006.

The row broke out in September 2005 when the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten published 12 drawings focused on Islam, several of which were seen as linking both the religion and the prophet Mohammed to modern terrorism and suicide bombings.

At the time the war in mainly Muslim Iraq, initiated by the US-led invasion that had overthrown the regime of Saddam Hussein, was in full swing, and the threat of Islamic extremism had been underlined by the deadly attacks that had hit London less than three months earlier.

One of the drawings by cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who subsequently had to go into hiding, showed the prophet with a hat in the shape of a bomb.

Muslims were angered both by the association of their religion with terrorism and by the showing of images of Muhammad, which most consider blasphemous in and of themselves.

Anger over the Jyllands Posten cartoons began to build throughout the Muslim world in late 2005; in January 2006 Saudi Arabia reacted by withdrawing its ambassador to Denmark.

The following month newspapers in several other countries, including Charlie Hebdo in France, published the images in support of the Danish paper.

Anger continued over the following years, with dozens dead in violent protests in several Muslim countries.

In February 2008 Danish police said they had foiled a plot to murder the cartoonist and the following month Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden threatened Europe with a "reckoning" over the affair.

In June of the same year eight people died in a bomb attack on the Danish embassy in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

Following the publication of the cartoons in France, two Muslim organisations brought a lawsuit against Charlie Hebdo, but it was thrown out in 2007.

The satirical weekly has linked its decision to return to the controversy this week -- by publishing an issue supposedly "edited" by the Prophet Muhammad -- to recent events in north Africa.

The National Transitional Council in Libya has said the new regime it will create to replace that of Muamma Qaddhafi will be based on Islamic law and in neighbouring Tunisia an Islamic party emerged as the winner in constituent elections.

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