Cartoonist Hiding From al-Qaida Threat

The Associated Press
Monday, September 17, 2007; 1:34 PM

STOCKHOLM, Sweden -- A Swedish cartoonist who depicted Islam's Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog said Monday that police have taken him to a secret location and told him he cannot return home following a death threat from al-Qaida in Iraq.

Lars Vilks, who was whisked away by police when he returned to Sweden from Germany on Sunday, said police have described the threats against him as "very serious."

"Police guard was nonexistent before this. It's 100 percent now," he said in a telephone interview. "I can't live in my home, I've only been allowed to pick up some things."

The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered $100,000 over the weekend for Vilks' murder. He said the bounty would be upped to $150,000 if Vilks was "slaughtered like a lamb" and offered $50,000 for the killing of the editor of a local newspaper that reprinted the cartoon on Aug. 19.

"We are calling for the assassination of cartoonist Lars Vilks who dared insult our Prophet ... and we announce a reward during this generous month of Ramadan," al-Baghdadi said, according to transcripts of Islamic Web sites.

Sweden's secret police called in extra personnel over the weekend to work on the case, said a spokesman, Jakob Larsson.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has called for mutual respect between Muslims, Christians and nonreligious groups in an attempt to avert a wider conflict in a country that has received more than 18,000 Iraqi refugees over the past year.

"We are urging calm. We are urging thoughtfulness. We shall reject all those who call for violence and will oppose extremists' attempts to worsen the matter," Reinfeldt told the Swedish TT news agency.

The Nerikes Allehanda newspaper published Vilks' drawings in conjunction with an editorial criticizing Swedish art galleries for refusing to exhibit the cartoons.

© 2007 The Associated Press