Charlie Hebdo publisher Stephane "Charb" Charbonnier told reporters that the series of cartoons he ran Wednesday aren't meant to mock Muhammed, but the fury around the Innocence of Muslims movie.
"It happens that the news this week is Mohammed and this lousy film, so we are drawing cartoons about this subject," he said. "It's more turning in derision this grotesque film than to make fun of Mohammed."
Images of the cartoons inside the issue weren't available online, but Reuters described them as naked caricatures of Muhammed. "One, entitled 'Mohammad: a star is born', depicted a bearded figure crouching over to display his buttocks and genitals."
The Muslim community has already condemned the photos. Essam Erian, acting head of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, compared the cartoons to the controversy over the leaked nude photos of Kate Middleton.
"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.
As a precaution, the French government has upped security at some embassies in Arab and Muslim countries. On Friday, it will close embassies and schools in 20 nations. Riot police were also sent to protect the magazine's offices in Paris Wednesday morning.
This isn't the first time Charlie Hebdo has played on Muslim sensitivities. In November 2011, its offices were bombed and its website hacked after releasing a "special edition" guest-edited by Muhammad.
Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Luz told a CNN affiliate that the 2011 incident inspired the staff to put the offensive cartoons inside the issue this time — not on the cover.
"We learned our lesson," he said.
Other European magazines have pulled similar satirical stunts. In 2005, the Danish magazine Jyllands-Posten published a cartoon that spurred riots across the Middle East. More than 100 people died.