‘No indication of criminal intent’ in Muhammad cartoonist Lars Vilks’ death

Swedish artist, who had been attacked and threatened, died in car crash along with two police bodyguards

Police have said they have found no evidence so far of criminal intent in a car crash that killed two police bodyguards and the Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, best known for his 2007 portrayal of the prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.

“We want to completely exclude any external act targeting the car in which Lars Vilks found himself,” the head of the Swedish southern regional investigation unit, Stefan Sinteus, told reporters on Monday. “There is nothing to indicate that, but we want to be certain so we can rule it out.”

Vilks, 75, who lived under near-continuous police protection following death threats and attacks, died with the two officers on Sunday after their car swerved and crashed through a metal road barrier, colliding with an oncoming truck near Markaryd, 60 miles north-east of Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city.

Local media said the car Vilks was in was travelling at high speed. One witness told the Aftonbladet newspaper that the driver “seemed to lose control”. The truck did not have time to swerve and the two vehicles collided at “incredible speed”, he told the newspaper.

Both vehicles caught fire and all three passengers in the car, which Sinteus said could have suffered a tyre blowout, died at the scene on Sweden’s main E4 motorway. The truck driver was injured and taken to hospital where he was questioned by police.

Sweden’s national police chief, Anders Thornberg, said the full outcome of the investigation could take “a relatively long time”, while the culture minister Amanda Lind called it “an extremely tragic traffic accident”.

The publication of Vilks’s drawings in a Swedish regional newspaper, to illustrate an editorial defending free speech, came a year after widespread Muslim outrage at the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten’s publication of 12 cartoons of the prophet. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, and dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims.

The Swedish publication drew protests from Afghanistan, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan, as well as the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which called for “punitive actions” against Vilks. The then prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, met ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries to try to defuse the situation.

The Islamist terrorist group al-Qaida subsequently placed a $100,000 bounty on the artist’s head, prompting a failed 2009 assassination plot by Islamist sympathisers in the US and Ireland. In May 2010 Vilks was assaulted while giving a lecture on free speech at Uppsala University, and the same year his house was firebombed.

The scene after an accident between a car and a truck on Sunday outside the town of Markaryd in Sweden.
The scene after an accident between a car and a truck on Sunday outside the town of Markaryd. Photograph: IBL/Rex/Shutterstock

Five years later, Vilks attended a free speech and blasphemy debate in Copenhagen organised in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. The event was attacked by a man with a semi-automatic rifle who killed a 55-year-old Danish film director and a guard at the Copenhagen synagogue, before Danish police shot him dead.

Vilks, who had repeatedly said the cartoons were not intended to provoke Muslims but to challenge political correctness in the art world, was widely assumed to be the intended target.

While the Muhammad drawing is what Vilks was best known for internationally, he was primarily a sculptor. His most significant work is widely considered to be a driftwood sculpture, Nimis, built illegally at a national park, which became the subject of a lengthy legal dispute with local authorities.

  • With Associated Press and Reuters

Contributor

Jon Henley and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Seven arrested over alleged plot to kill cartoonist over Muhammad drawing

Four men and three women suspected of planning to kill Lars Vilks, who has had al-Qaida bounty on his head since 2007

Henry McDonald, Ireland correspondent

09, Mar, 2010 @4:15 PM

Article image
'Enjoy menstruation, even on the subway': Stockholm art sparks row
The Stockholm metro is sometimes called the longest art gallery in the world – but a new exhibit by Liv Strömquist is not to all commuters’ liking

Elle Hunt

02, Nov, 2017 @12:29 PM

Article image
Muhammad cartoons: French magazine to publish illustrated prophet biography
Charlie Hebdo editor says latest Muhammad cartoons will be 'perfectly halal' despite 2006 images sparking global protests

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

30, Dec, 2012 @3:54 PM

Article image
Two Muslim men charged over alleged plot to kill Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks

Acting on intelligence shared between the CIA, FBI and European security agencies, Irish police arrested the men in a series of raids

Aidan Jones

16, Mar, 2010 @12:05 AM

Article image
Tintin cover art sells for record-breaking €3.2m
Hergé’s original artwork for Le Lotus Bleu was rejected as too expensive to reproduce in 1936 and given to editor’s son, who kept it in a drawer for decades

Sian Cain

15, Jan, 2021 @12:22 AM

Article image
Muhammad cartoonist had $100,000 bounty on head
Lars Vilks's sketches drew a furious reaction from Muslim groups and countries, and death threats from al-Qaida

Matthew Weaver and agencies

09, Mar, 2010 @4:39 PM

Article image
Distracted Boyfriend meme is sexist, rules Swedish ad watchdog
Popular image of man ogling another woman deemed degrading and discriminatory

Jon Henley

26, Sep, 2018 @10:06 AM

Article image
Kiruna: the town being moved 3km east so it doesn't fall into a mine
Oliver Wainwright: Sweden’s most northerly town is being relocated to avoid being swallowed up by the world’s largest iron-ore mine

Oliver Wainwright

22, Oct, 2014 @2:44 PM

Article image
French photographer at centre of Nobel row charged with rape
Jean-Claude Arnault faces six years in Swedish prison if found guilty

Richard Orange in Malmö

12, Jun, 2018 @11:33 AM

Article image
Plans for £100m Nobel Centre blocked by Swedish court
David Chipperfield-designed centre would harm Stockholm waterfront, court rules

Jon Henley

23, May, 2018 @4:00 AM