Cartoonist threatened over Prophet Muhammad drawing killed in crash

Stockholm — The Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since his 2007 sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body brought death threats, died from a traffic accident Sunday, Swedish police confirmed to CBS News. The accident reportedly involved a truck colliding with a civilian police car in which Lars Vilks and his police protection were traveling, according to local news outlets.
Swedish police speaking to CBS News on Monday confirmed reports that Vilks, 75, was killed in the crash while in police protective custody. Newspaper Dagens Nyheter said the artist’s partner had also confirmed his death.
The cause of the accident was under investigation.
Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before his Muhammad drawing. 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.

Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks walks in the streets of Stockholm March 11, 2010.
Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks walks in the streets of Stockholm March 11, 2010. Francois Campredon/AFP/Getty

Vilks’ life changed radically 13 years ago after he drew a sketch of Muhammad with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Al Qaeda put a bounty on Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden. Last year, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill him.

Bjorn Wiman, the arts editor of the Dagens Nyheter paper, called Vilks’ death a “complete shock, of course. A tragedy.”

“Lars Vilks has, for over 10 years, lived with constant threats to his life, with bodyguards, like a prisoner in his own home, and has received death threats from one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations,” said Wiman. “And then he dies in a traffic accident on a motorway in Smaland. Unbelievable.”  

“I think that Lars Vilks will go to history — and he would have anyway — but he will do it even more now as the early 2000s’ most important Swedish artist,” Wiman told Swedish network TV4, adding: “Hopefully the Swedish cultural establishment will learn something from this – that when people are threatened it’s our task and duty to protect them.”