Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks, who was the target of an attack in Copenhagen in 2015 and was living under protection after portraying the prophet Muhammad as a dog in 2007, was killed in a road accident in southern Sweden on Sunday.
Lars was 75 years old. Two police officers who were supposed to protect him were also killed. The police currently believe it was an accident.
The accident took place on a busy two-lane road in Markaryd. For an unknown reason, Vilks’ car ended up on the wrong side of the road, where it collided with a truck. Both vehicles caught fire as a result of the violent impact.
All three occupants in the car lost their lives. The truck driver was taken to hospital with serious injuries. He will be questioned as soon as his condition allows.
Police have ruled out the hypothesis of a malicious act, for the time being, it said in a statement. “This is being investigated like any other traffic accident,” said a spokesman for the local police.
When asked whether there are indications that indicated something other than an accident, he replied in the negative. “The investigation would have gone in a different direction had that been the case,” it said.
Earlier, the police said that “criminal motives could not be completely ruled out, as the investigation is still at a very early stage.”
Vilks became best known for the cartoon depicting Prophet Muhammad as a dog – which followed the Danish cartoons of the prophet published in 2005. This made him a target for radical Muslims. Then-IS leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi even placed a $100,000 prize on his head.
The threat also materialized several times. In 2010, seven people were arrested in Ireland for planning an attack against him. Two months later, he was headbutted during a speech on freedom of expression.
In 2015, Vilks really slipped through the eye of the needle during a shooting at a cultural center in Copenhagen. The perpetrator reportedly targeted him specifically, but it was film director Finn Nørgaard who then died. A month later, the cartoonist received an award for his bravery under great media attention.
It should therefore come as no surprise that Vilks was under constant police surveillance. In the accident, a car with police officers was even following him.