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GOTHENBURG MURDER PLOT

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Vilks murder plot suspects acquitted

Three men accused of plotting to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks were acquitted of the charges in Gothenburg on Friday, but were nevertheless convicted for weapons violations.

Vilks murder plot suspects acquitted

The prosecutor had sought to have the men sentenced to three years in prison, but the Gothenburg District Court ordered the three men released from custody following the conclusion of the trial in December.

“As they were released following the hearing, it wasn’t unexpected that the main charges were thrown out,” prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnström told TT on Friday after the verdict was announced.

However, she added that she had no regrets about filing charges against the men.

“They were held in remand for a long time and they ordered held in remand on several occasions. The matter was tested in court and I believe there was reason to indict them,” she said.

Vilks has faced numerous death threats and was the target of another suspected assassination plot since his drawing of the Prophet Muhammad as a dog was first published by a Swedish regional newspaper in 2007, illustrating an editorial on the importance of freedom of expression.

The three men released Wednesday were arrested along with a fourth man, no longer considered a suspect, by an elite counter-terrorism unit in Gothenburg.

The unit had evacuated hundreds of people from the Röda Sten gallery that was hosting the September art fair “after concluding that there was a threat that could endanger lives or health or cause serious damage”.

Vilks had initially said on his blog that he would attend the art fair although he did not in the end.

The three suspects — one Somali citizen and two Swedes in their mid-20s – were all carrying knives when they were arrested and were, according to the prosecution, planning to stab Vilks to death.

Press reports have suggested that the trio had ties to a Somali Islamist movement al-Shabaab, but Hilding Qvarnström told AFP in December that she had no information to support such claims.

She said she has yet to decide whether or not she will appeal the ruling.

“I now want to read the verdict and the court’s reasoning in peace and quiet. I have three weeks to decide,” she told TT.

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LARS VILKS

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.

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