The top editor and publisher of Charlie Hebdo, the satirical French newspaper that suffered a deadly terrorist attack in January, said the publication would no longer draw the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad that have garnered it worldwide notoriety.
"We have drawn Muhammad to defend the principle that one can draw whatever one wants," said Laurent Sourisseau, in an interview this week with Stern, a German magazine.
But Sourisseau, who goes by the cartoonist nickname "Riss," said that it was not Charlie Hebdo's intent to be "possessed" by its critique of Islam. "The mistakes you could blame Islam for can be found in other religions," he said.
On Jan. 7, two Islamist militants stormed Charlie Hebdo's Paris offices, killing 12 of its journalists, including some of its top editors and cartoonists. According to statements made later by al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, which claimed responsibility for the attack, they were punishing the newspaper for its mocking depiction of Muhammad, images of whom are considered blasphemous in Islam.
The aftermath of the tragedy placed the controversial publication at the center of the global debate over the right to freedom of speech. Millions around the world who had likely never picked up a copy of Charlie Hebdo embraced the slogan "Je suis Charlie" in solidarity with its murdered staff.
Charlie Hebdo's first cover after the attack featured an image of a weeping Muhammad holding up a sign that read "Tout est pardonné," or "All is forgiven." The issue sold an unprecedented 8 million copies.
Sourisseau's recent remarks were foreshadowed in April by the cartoonist who drew that best-selling cover. Renald Luzier, who goes by the nickname "Luz," told a French cultural magazine that drawing the prophet Muhammad "no longer interests me."
He went on: "I've got tired of it, just as I got tired of drawing [former French president Nicolas] Sarkozy. I'm not going to spend my life drawing them."
In May, Luzier announced his imminent departure from Charlie Hebdo, citing overwork and fatigue. He added that producing each issue without his slain friends and colleagues was "torture."
The surviving members of the Charlie Hebdo staff all live under police protection and have spoken to media about the particular mental stress of producing the publication under the scrutiny that follows such tragedy. There have been reports of rifts within the staff over the moral role Charlie Hebdo should or should not to attempt to play, as well as disputes over what to do with the millions of dollars in added revenue and donations that have flooded in since the attacks.
Sourisseau, who owns 40 percent of the company's shares, has come in for criticism for pocketing a good portion of Charlie Hebdo's recent profits.
"The most important thing is there’s a real desire to keep getting this paper out every week, it should continue and it will continue," Sourisseau told the Guardian in May. "The fact that everyone is watching across the world spurs us on to keep going, helps us not be scared."
He managed to survive the January assault by pretending to be dead, he has said.
"When it was over, there was no sound. No complaints. No whining," Sourisseau told Stern. "That is when I understood that most were slain."