UPDATE, WRITETHRU: A week after the attacks at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo left 12 people dead, Al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has formally claimed responsibility. A statement by the official publication arm of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the attack was in response to the paper’s frequent caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, the New York Times reports. The assault was ordered by Al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, in keeping with the wishes of his predecessor, Osama bin Laden, said a document sent to reporters. A leader of the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda also appeared today in a YouTube video claiming responsibility.
The missives from Yemen came as the paper’s latest issue hit French newsstands early Wednesday morning – and promptly sold out. An initial run of one million copies, dramatically bigger than the normal 60,000, was printed for today with about 700,000 reportedly delivered to vendors before dawn. In Paris, kiosks reported lines 70-people deep and most copies were sold out within minutes. In the South of France, where I live, a canvas of newsagents in five different villages told a similar story. Some had sold out upon opening at about 6:30 AM and others only had reserved copies remaining. In one of the more touristy villages, the vendor said only about 20 copies were delivered this morning with more expected later and over the coming days — they had 250 reservations to fill. In another, the shopkeeper showed me a waiting list five pages long, and he wasn’t taking any more names.
Two million more copies were initially expected to be printed over the next few days, but that has now been increased with a total five million ultimately to be released. Some of those who got their hands on issues today have already put them on eBay. In France, there are copies listed at 100,000 euros. In the UK, there’s a Buy It Now version for £900, and on U.S. eBay, one for nearly $15,000 at the time of writing. No word on whether profits will be going to the families of the victims.
The cover features a depiction of the prophet Muhammad under a banner that reads “Tout Est Pardonné” (All Is Forgiven) and holding a Je Suis Charlie sign. The image was condemned by some Islamist groups in the Middle East before Al Qaeda made its statement today. In France this morning, Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin told France 2 television that she supported Charlie. “This is the French spirit: humor, impertinence, sometimes provocation. There was no question that Charlie Hebdo appear on newsstands just to become Okapi (a teen magazine) or a paper that would have totally neutralized what has made its singularity.”