Prophet cartoonist had $100,000 bounty on head

Stockholm: Lars Vilks’s cartoons of the prophet Muhammad (SAS) were originally created for an art exhibition.

Lars Vilks, the Swedish artist at the centre of an alleged assassination attempt, was put under police protection in 2007 when al-Qaida offered a reward for his “slaughter”. Vilks’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in a series of drawings prompted the terrorist group to put a $100,000 bounty on his head.

The sketches had sparked a furious reaction from Muslim groups and countries including Pakistan and Iran. Some Islamic traditions consider it blasphemous to make or show an image of the prophet, and Vilks’s drawings were regarded as especially derogatory as dogs are a symbol of filth for many Muslims.

In 2006 there were riots over Danish cartoons of the prophet, including one by Kurt Westergaard depicting Muhammad (SAS) wearing a turban shaped as a bomb. Westergaard was subjected to death threats and attempts on his life.

Vilks’s dog images were drawn for an art exhibition in Sweden in July 2007, but were removed because of security concerns and rejected by several other galleries. A month later one of the drawings was used by a Swedish newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, to illustrate an editorial that criticised the gallery’s lack of nerve.

“Muslims’ got right to freedom of religion” but said it must be permitted to “ridicule Islam’s most foremost symbols just like all other religions’ symbols”. The paper said Vilks’s drawings were different from the “rotten” cartoons published in Denmark.

Vilks said he made the drawings after being invited to contribute to an exhibition on the theme of dogs. “To begin with, the message was to make a critical contribution on the dog theme, but it took another direction,” Vilks told Associated Press in 2007. “Why can you not criticise Islam when you can criticise other religions?” He said he had not meant to insult Islam.

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