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France to shutter embassies, schools over new Muhammad cartoon

French officials have ordered extra security around the country and at its embassies around the world after a satirical magazine published cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad. NBC's Michelle Kosinski reports from Paris.

France said it would temporarily close its embassies and schools in 20 countries Friday after a satirical magazine in Paris published insulting cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, a move it fears will add “fuel to the fire” of global tensions over an anti-Islam film.

The French government, which had urged the weekly not to print the cartoons, said it was shutting embassies and schools as a precaution on Friday, when protests sometimes break out after Muslim prayers.

“We have indeed decided as a precautionary measure to close our premises, embassies, consulates, cultural centers and schools,” a Foreign Ministry spokesman told Reuters. Riot police were also sent to the offices of the weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby called the drawings outrageous but said those who were offended by them should "use peaceful means to express their firm rejection".

Tunisia's ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, condemned what it called an act of "aggression" against Muhammad but urged Muslims not to fall into a trap intended to "derail the Arab Spring and turn it into a conflict with the West".

In the northern Paris suburb of Sarcelles, one person was slightly hurt when two masked men threw a small explosive device through the window of a kosher supermarket. Police said it was too early to link the incident to the cartoons. One small local Muslim group filed a legal complaint against the weekly but there were no reports of reaction on the streets of France.

The acting head of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said French courts should deal with the case as firmly as it dealt with a magazine that published topless photographs of the U.K.'s Duchess of Cambridge.


The publication came amid widespread outrage over a crude, provocative film, made by anti-Islam campaigners in California, that mocked the Prophet and ignited days of deadly protests including an attack in Libya in which U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed.

The front-page cartoon had the figure in a wheelchair saying "You mustn't mock'' under the headline "Untouchable 2," a reference to a hugely popular French movie about a paralyzed rich white man and his black assistant.

US Muslims walk tightrope, denouncing both violence and anti-Islam film

Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices were fire bombed last November after it published a mocking caricature of Muhammad.

Many Muslims consider any representation of Allah or Muhammad offensive.

From Northern Africa to Indonesia, protesters – sparked by outrage over an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. – march in sometimes violent demonstrations. NBC's Jim Maceda reports and msnbc's Rula Jebreal and TIME's Bobby Ghosh offer analysis.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius criticized the magazine's move.

"Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no,'' Fabius told France Info radio. "I'm very worried... and when I saw this I immediately issued instructions for special security precautions to be taken in all the countries where it could be a problem.''

The government has called for restraint over the cartoons, restating the principles of free speech in France and urging those shocked by the images to take action through the courts.

Clinton to hold closed briefing for lawmakers on rising anti-US violence

Muslim leaders in France, which has Europe's largest Muslim population, have appealed for calm.

Salafist Muslims in Paris have already called for a protest this Saturday at Trocadero, near the Eiffel Tower, against the California-made film.

According to reports citing local officials in Afghanistan, a female suicide bomber attacked a minibus near Kabul, killing at least nine people in what may be the deadliest act of retribution over an anti-Islam film produced in the U.S. NBC's Richard Engel reports.

However, French authorities have refused to authorize any demonstration.

A small group of about 100 were prevented by riot police from approaching the U.S. Embassy in the center of Paris last Saturday.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the authorities had rejected a request to hold a march.

"There is no reason for us to allow conflicts that do not concern France to enter our country,'' Ayrault told RTL radio.

Muslim Brotherhood: Respect beliefs of others
Muslim leaders criticized the magazine’s cartoons as another Western insult to their faith and urged France's government to take action.

"We reject and condemn the French cartoons that dishonor the Prophet and we condemn any action that defames the sacred according to people's beliefs," the acting head of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, Essam Erian, said, according to Reuters.

Erian added that the French judiciary should deal with the issue as firmly as it had handled the case against the magazine, Closer, which published topless pictures of Britain's Duchess of Cambridge, the wife of Prince William.

"If the case of Kate (the duchess) is a matter of privacy, then the cartoons are an insult to a whole people. The beliefs of others must be respected," he told Reuters.

Erian also spoke out against any violent reaction from Muslims but said peaceful protests were justified.

Mahmoud Ghozlan, spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, welcomed French government criticism of the cartoons but said that French law should deal with insults against Islam in the same way as it deals with Holocaust denial.

"If anyone doubts the Holocaust happened, they are imprisoned, yet if anyone insults the Prophet, his companions or Islam, the most (France) does is to apologize in two words. It is not fair or logical," he told Reuters.

In Lebanon, leading Salafist cleric Sheikh Nabil Rahim said the cartoons were extremely insulting and could lead to more violence.

"Of course it will anger people further. It will raise tensions that were already dangerously high," he said, according to Reuters.

He accused those involved of trying to provoke a clash of civilizations, not dialogue. "We will try to keep things managed and peaceful, but these things easily get out of hand. I fear there could more targeting of foreigners, and this is why I wish they would not persist with these provocations."

An official in Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church said the move was a deliberate provocation. It showed "some international powers" wanted violence to escalate in Egypt so that the country would not develop economically, the official, who asked not to be named, said without elaborating. 

Reuters contributed to this report.

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