Lars Vilks, Swedish cartoonist who drew Prophet Muhammad, dies in car crash
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since making a sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in 2007, died in a weekend car crash with two guards of the police force.
- The artist sparked worldwide controversy in 2007 with drawings depicting the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog
- He was living in police custody after receiving continuous death threats
- Police are investigating the accident which also killed two policemen
The 75-year-old man and two plainclothes policemen were killed in a head-on collision with a truck on Sunday afternoon, said Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden.
All three died instantly. The 45-year-old truck driver was airlifted to hospital with serious injuries.
Ms Persson said the police car, which had left Stockholm and was heading south, veered into the path of the truck and both vehicles caught fire.
The accident happened near Markaryd, 100 kilometers northeast of MalmÃ¶, Sweden’s third largest city.
Sweden’s top police chief Anders Thornberg said an investigation would take place, but would “take a relatively long time.”
Swedish Culture Minister Amanda Lind called it an “extremely tragic traffic accident”.
Controversy leads to danger
Vilks was largely unknown outside of Sweden until 2007, when he drew a sketch of Mohammed with a dog’s body.
Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any portrayal of the Prophet, even favorable, lest it lead to idolatry.
Al-Qaeda put a price on Vilks’ head and in 2010 two men attempted to burn down his house in southern Sweden.
Since then, Vilks has been forced to live under police protection, “because of his use of his freedom of expression and artistic freedom,” Lind said on Monday.
Over the years, he continued to face threats to his life.
In 2014, a Pennsylvania woman pleaded guilty to a plot to kill him.
The following year, a free speech seminar Vilks attended in Copenhagen, Denmark, was attacked by a sniper who killed a Danish director and injured three police officers.
Vilks, who was widely seen as the target of this 2015 attack, was taken away unharmed by bodyguards.
The gunman then killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and injured two other policemen before being killed in a shootout with police.
Police said they were unsure why Vilks’ car had entered the wrong lane, but were investigating whether a tire may have exploded. The car had puncture-proof tires, police said.
The accident occurred Sunday afternoon on the E4 north-south motorway. The unmarked police car apparently passed through a cable railing separating the north and southbound lanes, police officer Stefan Siteus said at the press conference.
“We found tire residue on the E4 before the accident, and we are investigating the possibility that there was some kind of tire explosion,” Siteus said.
Two investigations were underway. Chief prosecutor Kajsa Sundgren said she had resumed a preliminary investigation into whether “a police officer may have committed a crime in connection with the accident”.
“As to whether the accident may have been caused by someone else, the police are currently investigating,” she said.
“I know the police take this very seriously.”
Born in Helsingborg, southern Sweden, in 1946, Vilks worked as an artist for nearly four decades and rose to fame for challenging the limits of art through several controversial works.
His most famous pieces included “Nimis” – a driftwood sculpture built without permission in the Kullaberg nature reserve in Sweden – as well as drawings of the Prophet Muhammad, including the one showing the Prophet as a dog.
Vilks originally planned to display the design at an exhibition at a Swedish cultural heritage center, but the design was removed for security reasons. It went largely unnoticed until a Swedish newspaper printed the cartoon with an editorial defending free speech.
Several of his works, including driftwood sculptures and drawings of Muhammad, including the one depicting the head of the Muslim prophet on the body of a dog, are currently on display in Warsaw, Poland.
The works are presented as part of an exhibition curated by a right-wing director who aims to challenge leftist political correctness.