Irish police foil plot to kill Swedish cartoonist

Seven Muslims were arrested by Irish police on Tuesday on suspicions of conspiracy to murder a Swedish cartoonist who drew the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.

Irish police foil plot to kill Swedish cartoonist

The four men and three women were arrested in the southern Irish towns of Cork and Waterford following an international operation involving European and US security services.

A police source confirmed press reports that they were Muslims arrested over an alleged plot to assassinate Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who has a $100,000 bounty on his head from an Al-Qaeda-linked group.

“The operation… is part of an investigation into a conspiracy to commit a serious offence (namely, conspiracy to murder an individual in another jurisdiction),” said a statement from Ireland’s national police service.

Säpo spokesperson Mattias Lindholm confirmed it had been aware of Tuesday’s

arrests but refused to comment on any threat to Vilks.

“Right now we are in continuous touch with the authorities involved, including our Irish counterparts,” he told AFP, adding: “I cannot say anything about any possible threats against any individuals, for security reasons.”

The seven people arrested range in age from mid 20s to late 40s, Irish police said. State broadcaster RTE reported that they were originally from Morocco and Yemen, but were all legally in Ireland.

They could be held for questioning without charge for up to seven days.

Police had been monitoring them for the past five months, RTE said, adding that 60 detectives were involved in raids Tuesday which resulted in the seizure of documents, computers and mobile phones.

Vilks began receiving death threats after his cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog appeared in Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda on August

18th 2007, alongside an editorial on freedom of expression and religion.

The cartoon prompted protests by Muslims in the town of Örebro, west of Stockholm, where the newspaper is based, while Egypt, Iran and Pakistan made

formal complaints.

An Al-Qaeda front organisation then offered $100,000 dollars for Vilks’ murder — with an extra $50,000 if his throat was slit – and $50,000 for the death of Nerikes Allehanda, editor-in-chief Ulf Johansson.

The protests in Sweden echoed the uproar caused in Denmark by the publication in September 2005 of 12 drawings focused on Islam, including one with the Prophet Muhammad with a turban in the shape of a bomb.

Muslims worldwide took to the streets in protest, angered both by the association of their religion with terrorism and by the showing of images of Muhammad, which many consider blasphemous in themselves.

In February 2008, Danish police said they had foiled a plot to murder the cartoonist behind the bomb drawing, Kurt Westergaard, while another attempt on his life was allegedly made by a Somali man in January.

Vilks has in the past dismissed the threats against him as “scare tactics” and, supported by the Swedish media, has insisted on the importance of publishing such material in defence of Sweden’s freedom of expression.

He even announced in 2007 that he had begun working on a musical based on the drawing called “Dogs”, involving Muhammad, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Al-Qaeda.

He compared it to musicals such as “Cats”.


Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for Muhammad cartoon, killed in car accident

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for his cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad as well as his huge wooden sculptures, died in a car accident on Sunday.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks gives a lecture
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, pictured here giving a lecture in 2015, died in a car collision on Sunday. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

The 75-year-old has lived under police protection due to death threats over his 2007 Prophet Muhammad drawing. He and two police officers were killed in a collision with an oncoming truck, Swedish police confirmed to AFP, and the accident is currently not being treated as suspicious.

“This is being investigated like any other road accident. Because two policemen were involved, an investigation has been assigned to a special section of the prosecutor’s office,” a police spokesperson told AFP, adding that there was no suspicion of foul play.

The accident occurred near the small town Markaryd when the car Vilks was travelling in crashed into an oncoming truck. Both vehicles caught fire and the truck driver was sent to hospital for treatment, according to police. In a statement, the police said the cause of the accident was unclear.

“The person we were protecting and two colleagues died in this inconceivable and terribly sad tragedy,” said regional police head Carina Persson.

Vilks had been under police protection since 2010, after his cartoon of Muhammad with a dog’s body published in Swedish newspapers three years earlier prompted outrage among those who consider depictions of the Muslim prophet deeply offensive or blasphemous. Al-Qaeda offered a $100,000 reward for Vilks’ murder.

The depiction also sparked diplomatic friction, with Sweden’s then prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt meeting ambassadors from several Muslim countries to ease tensions. In 2015, Vilks survived a gun attack at a free-speech conference in Copenhagen that left a Danish film director dead.

While the Muhammad drawing is what Vilks was best known for internationally, he was primarily a sculptor.

His most significant work is the driftwood sculpture Nimis, which he began building in a Skåne national park in 1980.

This work was also not without controversy; Vilks built it illegally without acquiring a permit, sparking a legal dispute with local authorities who demanded it be destroyed. The artist sold both Nimis and a second artwork, and although he was fined for building them, and Nimis was badly damaged in a 2016 fire, they remain largely standing today.