Barcelona Attack: Charlie Hebdo Publishes Controversial Anti-Islam Cover Art

Barcelona police
Spanish policemen walk in a cordoned-off area after a van plowed into a crowd on the popular Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Spain, killing 13 and injuring more than 80, on August 17. Critics say the cover art on the French weekly Charlie Hebdo risks stoking greater Islamophobia in France. Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty

The satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo on Wednesday published a provocative front cover in reaction to the vehicle-ramming attack in Barcelona last Thursday, sarcastically calling Islam a “religion of peace.”

The magazine’s artwork shows a white van in the background with two cross-eyed, bloodied bodies lying motionless on the floor. The words read, “Islam, the religion of eternal peace.”

Most of those implicated in the Barcelona vehicle-ramming attack and a second attack in the Catalonian town of Cambrils were Moroccan-born Muslims.

The magazine’s editor, Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau, justified the decision in an editorial, saying that the publication was sending a message that the French elite were too scared to communicate.

“The debates and questions about the role of religion, and in particular the role of Islam, in these attacks have completely disappeared,” he wrote. 

Critics said the art risked exacerbating Islamophobia, and alienating more moderate Muslims who are not involved in extremist activity. A former Socialist minister, Stéphane Le Foll, said the cover was “extremely dangerous” because of the message it sent to others about all forms of Islam.

“When you’re a journalist you need to exercise restraint because making these associations can be used by other people,” he said in a tweet.

The cover comes after 22-year-old Moroccan-born Younes Abouyaaqoub plowed a white van into pedestrians on the famous Las Ramblas boulevard in the northeastern Spanish city, killing 13 people. He fled on foot, also stabbing to death the driver of a car and hijacking his vehicle. Four days later, police received a tip-off that the suspect was near the town of Subirats, west of Barcelona. They discovered him wearing what seemed to be a suicide belt (later determined to be fake) and shot him dead.

Abouyaaqoub’s network planned a larger attack, suspect Mohamed Chemlal conceded to a judge on Tuesday. Chemlal was injured in an explosion at a safe house in Alcanar, Spain, south of Barcelona, where the cell had stored 120 gas canisters—to be detonated with the same substance used in the Paris and Brussels suicide attacks: triacetone triperoxide, or TATP.

Spanish authorities believe they have detained or killed every member of the radical Islamist cell that planned a larger series of bomb attacks in the Catalonia region. They suspect the members of the cell to have been radicalized by an imam, Abdelbaki Es Satty, who they say died in the Alcanar explosion.

Charlie Hebdo staffers were the victims of a jihadi attack in January 2015 that led to an outpouring of support across the world and the slogan “Je Suis Charlie,” or “I Am Charlie.” Two brothers, Cherif and Said Kouachi, launched a shooting attack on the magazine’s Paris offices, killing 12 people, including the magazine’s famous cartoonist Charb, after entering the building. They then took their assault to the streets of Paris to make their getaway.

Police killed the two gunmen after a three-day manhunt. At least one of the brothers had traveled to Yemen to train with the most dangerous Al-Qaeda arm, in the Arabian Peninsula. The faction claimed responsibility for the assault.

The attackers targeted Charlie Hebdo because of the weekly’s anti-Muslim cartoons, particularly those about the Prophet Mohammed. Mocking the highest religious figure in Islam is considered sinful by more-conservative sections of Muslim communities. The magazine attack was the first of a wave of radical Islamist assaults in France, including the kosher-supermarket attack in the Paris neighborhood of Vincennes two days later, the Paris attacks in November 2015 and the truck-ramming attack in the southern city of Nice in July 2016.