The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Provocative Swedish cartoonist hunted by al-Qaeda dies in a car crash

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, known for his depictions of the prophet Muhammad, is pictured in Sweden on Jan. 3, 2012. (Bjorn Lindgren/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist who became a target for Islamic extremists after he drew the prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007, died in a car accident Sunday, along with two police officers charged with his security.

On Sunday afternoon, a police car carrying Vilks and two police officers collided with a truck outside the town of Markaryd on the highway, police said. Both vehicles caught fire and Vilks, and the police officers were killed. The truck driver was taken to a hospital.

The cause of the accident was not known, according to Swedish police, who initially said in a statement late Sunday that two police officers and a “protected person” died in the crash.

Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who stirred worldwide controversy with drawings depicting the Prophet Mohammad in 2007, was killed in a car crash on Oct. 3, 2021. (Video: Reuters)

Swedish media later reported that the “protected person” was Vilks, who has lived under police protection since 2010, after al-Qaeda offered $100,000 for his death. The Swedish Police Authority eventually confirmed his identity.

The cause of the accident remains under investigation, but “nothing points to an external attack or a terrorist attack or any other vehicles that were involved,” Calle Persson, a police press officer, told The Washington Post.

“We haven’t closed the door yet to the possibility that it could be a crime, but nothing points to that now,” he said, adding that the police were mourning the loss of two of their colleagues.

Vilks’s series of cartoons of Muhammad were poorly received by many Muslims who considered them deeply insulting to the founder of their faith.

The Swedish cartoonist intended to illustrate a debate about freedom of speech in art, but later told Reuters he was “naive” not to realize his cartoon could spark a furor that extended far beyond Sweden’s borders.

Some of his artwork in Sweden was later vandalized, and he went on to receive death threats and was assaulted in the months and years following the controversy, eventually needing full-time police protection.

In 2014, Colleen LaRose, an American woman who called herself “Jihad Jane” on the Internet, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempting to kill Vilks years earlier. And in 2015, a terrorist who went on a shooting rampage in the Danish capital of Copenhagen first targeted an event on “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” organized by Vilks, leading authorities to say he was the intended target.

Many Swedish politicians expressed sadness and shock on social media on Monday.

“So unspeakably sad that it would end like this,” tweeted Amanda Lind, Sweden’s minister for Culture and Democracy.

Vilks’s death comes just short of three months after Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist whose caricature of Muhammad wearing a turban with a fuse-lit bomb also incensed Muslims, died at 86.

Read more:

When depictions of prophet Muhammad have outraged Muslims

Denmark debates putting Muhammad cartoons in school text books

Obituary: Kurt Westergaard, Danish cartoonist whose Muhammad caricature stirred debate and violence