Swedish artist threatened over Prophet Mohammed sketch killed in road accident

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since his 2007 sketch of the Prophet Mohammed with a dog’s body brought death threats, has died in a traffic accident. The 75-yer-old and two plain-clothed police bodyguards were killed in a head-on crash with a truck on Sunday afternoon, said Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden. All three died on the spot.

The truck driver was flown to hospital with serious injuries. She said the police car, which was being driven by one of the bodyguards, had left Stockholm and was heading south when it veered into the path of the truck. Both vehicles then burst into flames

Three people died in the accident, one of them is the Swedish artist Lars Vilks and the other two were police officers (Johan Nilsson/TT via AP)

The accident occurred near Markaryd, some 108 67 miles north-east of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city.

“There is nothing else for now that indicates that it was something else but a traffic accident,” Ms Persson told a press conference. “The work with the investigation is believed to take a relatively long time,” said Sweden’s top police chief Anders Thornberg. Since 2010, Mr Vilks had been forced to live under police protection “due to the fact that he made use of his freedom of expression and his artistic freedom”, said Sweden’s culture minister Amanda Lind, calling his death “an extremely tragic traffic accident”.

Mr Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before 2007, when he drew a sketch of Mohammed with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Swedish artist threatened over Prophet Mohammed sketch killed in road accidentSwedish police chiefs speaking at a press conference (Johan NIlsson/TT News Agency via AP)

Al Qaida put a bounty on Mr Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden.

In 2014, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to kill him. In 2015, Mr Vilks attended a free-speech seminar in Copenhagen, Denmark, that was attacked by a lone gunman who killed a Danish film director and wounding three police officers. Mr Vilks, widely believed to have been the intended target, was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards.

The gunman later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and wounded two more officers before he was killed in a firefight with police. Police said at this time they did not know why the car drove into the wrong lane but they were investigating whether a tyre might have exploded.

Swedish artist threatened over Prophet Mohammed sketch killed in road accidentForensic technicians work at the scene of the crash (Johan Nilsson/TT News Agency via AP)

The car transporting Mr Vilks had puncture-proof tyres, police said. However, an exploded tyre remains were reportedly found on the road.

Two investigations are now taking place. Chief Prosecutor Kajsa Sundgren said she had taken over a preliminary investigation into whether “any police officer may have committed a crime in connection with the accident”. As to whether the accident may have been caused by someone else, that is being investigated by the police, she said.

“There is a lot of speculation going on about what may have happened, and I am careful not to contribute to them,” said home affairs minister Mikael Damberg. “I know that the police take this very seriously.”

Born in 1946 in Helsingborg in southern Sweden, Mr Vilks worked as an artist for almost four decades, and rose to fame for challenging the boundaries of art through several controversial works.