Muhammad cartoonist Lars Vilks reportedly dies in car crash

The Swedish artist Lars Vilks – who has lived under police protection since his 2007 sketch caricaturing the prophet Muhammad brought death threats – has died in a car crash, according to multiple Swedish media reports.

The newspaper Dagens Nyheter said the artist’s partner confirmed his death, and the Swedish news agency TT said police had confirmed that Vilks, 75, was travelling in the car with two police officers, who also died. According to police, a civilian police car and a truck collided and caught fire on Sunday afternoon outside Markaryd. The truck driver was taken to hospital, and the cause of the collision was under investigation.

In 2015, Vilks’s presence was a central feature of the Copenhagen terror attacks: he was the star speaker at a free speech event at a cafe where an Islamist gunman opened fire, killing a film director and wounding three police before going to a synagogue and killing a volunteer guard.

National Police Chief Anders Thornberg said: “It is with dismay and great sadness that I received the news that our two colleagues and our security person died this afternoon. My thoughts go to relatives, families, friends and co-workers.”

Stefan Sintéus, head of the regional investigation unit responsible for personal protection in the region, said: “This is an extremely tragic event. Now it is important for all of us that we do everything we can to find out what happened at the site and what caused the collision.”

Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before his drawing, which depicted the prophet Muhammad’s head on the body of a dog. At home, he was best known for building a sculpture made of driftwood in a nature reserve in southern Sweden without permission, triggering a lengthy legal battle. He was fined, but the seaside sculpture – a jumble of wood nailed together in chaotic fashion – draws tens of thousands of visitors a year.

In September 2007, Vilks had a $100,000 bounty placed on his head by an al-Qaida faction in Iraq in response to his drawings.

In 2010, Swedish newspapers reprinted the controversial cartoon after two Muslim men were arrested and subsequently charged in the Republic of Ireland in connection with an alleged plot to murder Vilks.

Since then he has received numerous death threats and has lived under constant police protection.

In 2013, an American woman who called herself Jihad Jane was sentenced to 10 years in prison for plotting to kill him.

The Lars Vilks committee gave its freedom prize to Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine, in October 2014 – three months before the terrorist attack on its Paris office.

Gerard Biard, the magazine’s editor-in chief, who received the prize in Copenhagen, survived the attack because he was in London at the time.

After the Charlie Hebdo attack, Vilks said that even fewer organisations were inviting him to give lectures amid increased security concerns.

With Associated Press

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