Police say that the Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who has lived under police protection since his sketch of the Prophet Muhammad in 2007 with a dog’s body carried death threats, has died in a traffic accident
STOCKHOLM – Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who lived under police protection since his 2007 sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body carried death threats, has died in a traffic accident, police said on Monday. He was 75.
Vilks and two commonly dressed police guards were killed in a frontal collision with a truck on Sunday afternoon, says Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden. All three died on the spot. The truck driver flew to hospital with serious injuries.
She said that the police car, which had left Stockholm and was on its way south, turned onto the truck’s road and both vehicles burned out in flames. The accident occurred near Markaryd, about 108 kilometers northeast of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city.
– There is nothing else that indicates that it was anything other than a traffic accident, Persson said at a press conference.
– The work with the investigation is assumed to take a relatively long time, says Sweden’s highest police chief Anders Thornberg.
Since 2010, Vilks had been forced to live under police protection “because he exercised his freedom of expression and his artistic freedom”, says Sweden’s Minister of Culture Amanda Lind and calls his death “an extremely tragic traffic accident”
Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before 2007, when he drew a sketch of Muhammad with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any portrayal of the Prophet, even favorable ones, for fear that it may lead to idolatry.
Al-Qaeda put a premium on Vilk’s head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden. In 2014, a Pennsylvania woman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to kill him.
In 2015, Vilks participated in a seminar on freedom of expression in Copenhagen, Denmark, which was attacked by a lone armed man who killed a Danish film director and injured three police officers. Which, which is generally believed to have been the intended target, was taken away unharmed by bodyguards. The shooter later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and injured two other police officers before being killed in a firefight with police.
Police said at the time that they did not know why the car was driving into the wrong lane but they were investigating whether a tire might have exploded. The car that transported Vilks had puncture-proof tires, the police say. According to information, however, blown tire remains were found on the road.
Vilks was born in 1946 in Helsingborg in southern Sweden and worked as an artist for almost four decades and became famous for challenging the boundaries of art through several controversial works.
His most famous works included “Nimis” – a sculpture of driftwood built without a permit in the Kullaberg Nature Reserve – as well as three Prophet Muhammad drawings, including the one showing the Prophet as a dog.
Vilks initially planned to show the drawing of an exhibition at a Swedish cultural heritage center, but the drawing was removed after the center cited security problems.
It went largely unnoticed until a Swedish newspaper printed the drawing with a leader who defended freedom of expression.
Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.