Lars Vilks: Muhammad cartoonist killed in traffic collision
Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who sketched the Prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body, has died in a traffic accident.
Vilks was reported to be travelling in a civilian police vehicle which collided with a truck near the town of Markaryd in southern Sweden.
Investigators said the collision, which also killed two police bodyguards, showed no signs of foul play.
The 75-year-old artist had been living under police protection after receiving death threats over the cartoon.
The cartoon, published in 2007, offended many Muslims who regard visual representation of the Prophet as blasphemous. It came a year after a Danish newspaper published cartoons of the Prophet.
After the accident, a large fire broke out and a number of emergency vehicles attended the scene. The driver of the truck was injured and taken to hospital, where he was questioned by investigators.
A statement from police said it was still unclear how the collision occurred, but initially there was nothing to suggest that anyone else was involved.
“This is being investigated like any other road accident. Because two policemen were involved, an investigation has been assigned to a special section of the prosecutor’s office,” a police spokesperson told news agency AFP, adding that there was no suspicion of foul play.
One eyewitness told the Aftonbladet newspaper that the car Vilks was thought to be in seemed to lose control and came over to his side of the motorway at high speed. The truck in front did not have time to swerve and then they collided with a loud bang at “incredible speed”, he told the newspaper.
Stefan Sinteus, chief of the South Sweden regional investigation unit, told a press conference that officers were attempting to determine why the car had swerved off the road.
“We don’t know yet the reason why the bodyguard car was on the wrong side of the road,” he said. “But we’re talking to witnesses, we have found remnants of tyres on the E4 road before the accident so we’re looking into the possibility that it could have been a tyre explosion or something similar.”
Vilks made headlines around the world after his 2007 cartoon caused outrage, leading then Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt to meet ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries in an attempt to defuse the situation.
Shortly afterwards, al-Qaeda in Iraq offered a $100,000 (£73,692) reward for his murder.
In 2015, Vilks attended a debate on free speech that was targeted in a gun attack in Copenhagen. He said he was probably the target of the attack, which killed a film director.
But police said on Monday there had been no new threats made against him recently.
Although he is most famous for his sketch of Muhammad as a dog, Vilks was an artist and activist who often worked with paint or created installations.
One of his creations was a sculpture made of driftwood in a nature reserve in southern Sweden which he erected without permission and which triggered a lengthy legal battle.