The head of a leading US-based Islamic organisation called for unity and a sense of tolerance on Wednesday (January 14) on the day the first edition of Charlie Hebdo was released after an attack by Islamist gunmen.

Nihad Awad, the Executive Director and Founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, stressed at a news conference in Washington that the Muslim religion largely rejects any image - positive or negative - of the Prophet Mohammad. Earlier in the day, the new edition of Charlie Hebdo featuring a cartoon of a tearful Prophet Mohammad on a cover sold out within minutes.

"Charlie Hebdo decided to republish cartoons that are deemed offensive to Muslims worldwide," he said. "I think what needs to be done here is we have to show a mutual respect. We cannot allow ourselves to be victims to extremists on both sides," he added.

French readers queued up at dawn for copies to show support for the newspaper, even as al Qaeda's branch in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it ordered the killings because it deemed the weekly had insulted the Prophet.

Across the Middle East, Muslim leaders who have denounced the attack on the newspaper called for calm, while criticizing its decision to publish a fresh caricature of Mohammad.