A French satirical magazine is set to publish several cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed on Wednesday, a move that is likely to inflame the Islamic faithful and militants who have already rioted in more than 20 countries over a movie mocking the prophet.
Depictions of the prophet are strictly prohibited and considered blasphemous by Muslims. Cartoons of Muhammad published in Denmark in 2005 and then reproduced in newspapers across Europe triggered riots throughout the Mideast and Africa. Churches and embassies were torched and at least 100 people died in the outbreaks and police crackdowns.
The magazine "Charlie Hebdo" has confirmed that it will publish the cartoons, but has not revealed what they will depict. French newspaper "Le Monde" reports that some of the cartoons show the prophet in "particularly explicit poses," without providing any further detail.
The move comes as Muslims are still simmering after riots in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and nearly 20 other countries over the move "Innocence of Muslims." U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans died during an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
French government ministers have criticized the magazine's decision and police in Paris have stepped up security around its offices.
France is home to Europe's largest Muslim population, and the senior cleric at Paris' biggest mosque has appealed for followers to remain calm, according to the French news agency AFP.
The magazine has defended the move by invoking the right to free speech. Speaking on French radio, the magazine's director explained that a decision not to publish would "hand victory to a handful of extremists that are causing a commotion in the world and in France."
It's not the first time the anti-establishment, left-wing magazine has courted controversy. In 2011 the offices of "Charlie Hedbo" were bombed after it published an Arab Spring edition with the Prophet Muhammad as "guest editor" on the cover.