French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a front-page cartoon depicting a van running over victims of last week's terror attack in Barcelona, leading to online criticism that the image, along with the caption, promoted Islamophobia.
The latest edition of the magazine, which was targeted by gunmen in 2015, shows in its cover two people lying in a pool of blood after having been run over by the van. Next to them are the words "Islam, eternal religion of peace."
A van plowed into crowds on Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas boulevard last Thursday, killing 13 people. Two others were killed during the driver's getaway and in a separate attack in Cabrils.
A dozen extremists of Moroccan origin are believed to have plotted the attacks. Investigators thought the attackers may have been radicalized by an "extremist Islamic preacher" who died in a house where the group was trying to produce explosives.
The latest cartoon by Charlie Hebdo became one of the top trending topics on Twitter in France. Critics of the magazine said its latest cover tarred an entire religion, practiced by around 1.5 billion people worldwide, by implying it was inherently violent.
Stephane Le Foll, a Socialist MP and former minister, also called the cartoon "extremely dangerous."
"When you're a journalist you need to exercise restraint because making these associations can be used by other people," he said.
Charlie Hebdo editor Laurent "Riss" Sourisseau defended the cartoon in an editorial, saying that experts and policy-makers were avoiding hard questions out of concern for moderate law-abiding Muslims.
"The debates and questions about the role of religion, and in particular the role of Islam, in these attacks have completely disappeared," he wrote.
Charlie Hebdo is notorious for regularly attacking Islam and Muslims. In April 2016, the magazine blamed Muslims for terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris. It also mocked the Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found washed up in the Mediterranean sea in 2015, portraying him as a would-be rapist.
Twelve people were killed in the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo’s office by gunmen accusing it of "blasphemy" for printing unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad.
Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of France afterwards, rallying behind the slogan "Je Suis Charlie" (I am Charlie) in defense of so-called "free speech."
After the violence, Riss said the magazine would stop depicting the prophet, leading one top journalist to quit and accuse its new management of going soft on what they call "Islamist extremism."