Less than a year after its offices were firebombed and during a week gripped by anti-Western violence in the Muslim world, French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is holding no punches, publishing on Wednesday cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed naked. And now fear over backlash has prompted the French to close embassies and schools across the Middle East.

Magazine Editor Stephane Charbonnier says that the pictures will “shock those who will want to be shocked.” Reuters reports from Paris:

Issues of the magazine hit newsstands with a front cover showing an Orthodox Jew pushing a turbaned figure in a wheelchair with several caricatures of the Prophet on its inside pages, including some of him naked.

The front page cartoon had the wheelchair-bound figure 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.

Here is an image of the cover via Business Insider:

French Authorities Distressed over Satire Magazine Publication of Naked Mohammed CartoonsIn the wake of attacks against U.S. and other Western targets in the Middle East over the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims,” French authorities are voicing criticism at the timing of the publication and have deployed police to protect the magazine’s offices. Security at French diplomatic missions in the Mideast have also been bolstered. The French government said it planned to temporarily close its embassies and French schools in 20 Muslim countries this Friday to avert any injuries in the event of demonstrations after Muslim prayers.

Reuters quotes French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius who told France Info radio: “Is it relevant and intelligent in this environment to add fuel to the fire? The answer is no…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.” FRANCE 24 reports:

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told FRANCE 24 on Tuesday that while he respects freedom of expression, he sees “no point in such a provocation.” Stressing that the French government would never encourage the cartoons’ publication, he called for “reason to prevail.” Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault issued a statement Tuesday saying: “In the current climate, the prime minister wishes to stress his disapproval of all excess and calls on everyone to behave responsibly.” […]

Editor Charbonnier, originally a cartoonist who uses the name Charb, told French news channel iTele on Tuesday that the paper “does caricatures of everyone, and above all every week, but when we do it with the Prophet, it’s called provocation,” adding that if Charlie Hebdo stopped printing satirical work because of pressure or fear of offence, it would be reduced to selling 16 blank pages every week.

For some Muslims, any visual depiction of Mohammad is considered blasphemous. Drawing him in the nude would likely be offensive even to the less devout.

French-Muslim community leaders are appealing for calm. Al Arabiya reports:

Dalil Boubakeur, the senior cleric at Paris’s biggest mosque, appealed for France’s Muslims to remain calm.

“It is with astonishment, sadness and concern that I have learned that this publication is risking increasing the current outrage across the Muslim world,” he said. “I would appeal to them not to pour oil on the fire.”

France’s Muslim Council on Tuesday said it was “dismayed” by a satirical weekly’s decision to publish “insulting cartoons” featuring the Prophet.

The Muslim Council, the main representative body for France’s four-million strong Islamic community, said in a statement that it “vigorously condemns this new act of Islamophobia.”

It added: “We launch an urgent appeal to the Muslims of France to not react to this provocation.”

The magazine Charlie Hebdo is no stranger to controversy or provocations. Last year, its cover depicted a Muslim man (unknown if it was intended as Mohammed) engaged in a homosexual kiss with one of the magazine’s cartoonists. That cover was published from a remote location, since one week before its offices had been firebombed.

This story has been updated.