Charlie Hebdo staff member says Prophet Mohamed cover 'opens door to forgiveness' of terrorists who gunned down her colleagues

Zineb El Rhazoui insisted Islam was a "normal" religion that must, along with all other religions, accept humour

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The Independent Online

A surviving member of staff at the besieged Charlie Hebdo magazine said a cover out tomorrow featuring the Prophet Mohamed should help "open the door to forgiveness" for the terrorists who killed her colleagues.

Zineb El Rhazoui insisted the team did not feel hatred towards brothers Cherif and Saïd Kouachi, who attacked the Paris office, and recognised that "the struggle is with an ideology" as she spoke of the difficult task of injured and traumatised staff pulling together the issue just three days after the attack.

The latest front cover appears to show the Prophet Mohamed with a tear falling down his cheek as he holds the sign "Je suis Charlie" (I am Charlie). It comes after brothers stormed the offices last week and launched their massacre during an editorial meeting, killing 12 people.

Some witnesses reported that the attackers shouted: "We have avenged the Prophet Mohamed" after the massacre. The magazine has in the past published controversial cartoons showing the Prophet Mohamed.

Ms El Rhazoui told BBC Radio 4 the cover, which has the phrase "Tout est Pardonne" (all is forgiven) written across the top, emphasised the need for Charlie Hebdo staff to forgive after the attack. "We feel as the Charlie Hebdo team the need to forgive the two terrorists who killed our colleagues,” she said.

"We cannot feel any hate towards them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people but the struggle is with an ideology.

"This mobilisation here in France after this horrible crime is something that must open the door to forgiveness and everyone must think about this forgiveness. We, as the Charlie Hebdo team, need to forgive."

A total of 17 people died in last week's attacks. The Kouachi brothers and their associate Amedy Coulibaly were killed on Friday by police after the murderous rampage at Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices and a kosher supermarket. The three all claimed ties to Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Ms El Rhazoui said the decision taken yesterday to print that front cover was the right way to demonstrate again that Islam was a "normal" religion that must, along with all other religions, accept humour.

When asked what she would say to Muslims offended by the depiction of Mohamed, she said: "It is a drawing and they are not obliged to buy this edition of Charlie Hebdo.

"Our friends died because of simple drawings, because of a joke.

"But what happened to us was not a joke so Muslims must understand that we at Charlie Hebdo just consider Islam as a normal religion, just as all the other religions in France.”

"It is a religion that belongs to the social reality in France so Islam must accept to be treated just like all the other religions and they must accept humour also."

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Remaining ‘Charlie Hebdo’ staff at work, in the ‘Libération’ offices, two days after last week’s shootings

Ms El Rhazoui - who was overseas on holiday at the time of the attack – said putting a cartoon of the Prophet Mohamed into three million homes was an important way to show the spirit of the slain Charlie Hebdo journalists would not be silenced.

She added: "I am very pleased it was this one [cover] because if the terrorists hadn't killed my colleagues I think this week the cover would have been about culture or sport or politics.

"But now, due to these terrorists who killed my colleagues for that, three million people will have the Prophet's drawing at home.

"It is very important for us to don’t accept [sic] that my colleagues are not censored after their death so it was important to choose this drawing."

French police have said as many as six members of a terrorist cell involved in the attacks may still be on the run, while 10,000 troops are due to be deployed to protect possible targets around France.

France saw its biggest demonstrations in history on Sunday as millions turned out to show unity and defend freedom of expression.