Police detained a young man in southern France on Thursday on suspicion that he was planning a revenge attack on the staff of a satirical magazine which published cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed.
Anti-terrorism magistrates near the Mediterranean port city of Toulon questioned the 18-year-old after he threatened in a message on Facebook to cut the throats of anyone he could find at the offices of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, a judicial source said.
The magazine’s publication of cartoons ridiculing the religious prophet added to the anger of Muslims already outraged over an anti-Islam film produced in the US and posted on the Internet.
The suspect had no police record, but he was already known to security services, the source said, without giving further details.
Police in France are on alert for attacks by Islamist militants. They were criticized for failing to stop an al-Qaeda-inspired gunman shooting dead seven people in March, including three Jewish children, in the southern city of Toulouse.
The shooter, Mohamed Merah, had been interviewed by police after returning from Afghanistan and had a violent criminal record.
The government, which has criticized the cartoons, was planning to shut schools and diplomatic offices in 20 countries yesterday as a precaution against protests after attacks on US and German embassies, some of them deadly.
Police have refused a request to hold a protest against the film in Paris, after some 150 participants in an illegal demonstration near the US embassy were arrested on Sunday. France has Europe’s largest population of Muslims.
“People in the suburbs are very upset over the publication of these cartoons,” said Mohamed Mechmache, head of the ACLEFEU association for urban youth, created in the wake of riots that swept French suburbs in 2005.
“They feel there is a double standard when it comes to free speech: it’s okay to mock the Prophet, but we can’t protest against it,” Mechmache said.
In another incident which might exacerbate strains, an 18-year-old young French woman was sentenced to two months in jail for refusing to comply with a police identity check while she was wearing a banned full-face veil in public.
The woman resisted police when they asked to check her identity in front of a mosque in central Marseille in July, during the holy Muslim fasting period of Ramadan.