Russians turn on Charlie Hebdo over 'blasphemous' Egypt crash cartoons

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russians took to social media in large numbers over the weekend to denounce French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, after the Kremlin condemned as blasphemous its cartoons about the crash of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt.

The French magazine published two cartoons after a Russian passenger plane crashed in the Sinai Peninsula on Oct. 31, killing all 224 people on board. Investigators are now "90 percent sure" it was downed by a bomb, a member of the investigation team told Reuters on Sunday.

The first drawing showed a passenger's skull, with the caption: "The dangers of Russian low cost" flights. The second showed the plane's debris falling on an Islamist militant with the legend: "The Russian air force is intensifying its air strikes."

VK, one of Russia's largest social media networks, said on Sunday the magazine's cartoons had been the most discussed topic by its more than 100 million active users over the weekend.

Russians took to other networks, such as Twitter, to express their anger too.

"Insane cynicism and a mockery of the memory of the victims of this terrible tragedy," wrote one Twitter user, Anna Isayeva.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday he thought the cartoons were "pure blasphemy" and had nothing to do with democracy or freedom of expression. Russian politicians lined up on state TV over the weekend to echo his criticism.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia's foreign ministry, used Facebook to ask "Is anyone still Charlie?”

It was a reference to the catch phrase “Je Suis Charlie”, used to express sympathy with the French magazine after Islamist gunmen killed 11 people at its Paris headquarters in January.

Her question had attracted almost 4,500 "likes" by Sunday evening and an avalanche of comments, many of them expletive-laden.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed leader of Chechnya, also weighed in, saying he thought the cartoonists responsible for the two images were not humans.

Gerard Biard, Charlie Hebdo's editor-in-chief, was quoted in French media as saying the accusation of blasphemy was "absurd."

The French foreign ministry said in a statement on its web site that journalists in France were free to express their opinions, but that they did not reflect the views of the French government.

"We were among the first to express our condolences to the Russian people and authorities on Saturday, as soon as we learned of this terrible tragedy," the ministry said.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)