Muhammad cartoonist Lars Vilk killed in car crash while under police protection

A Swedish cartoonist who lived under police protection for over a decade for sketching Prophet Muhammad died in a car crash on Sunday, according to reports. Lars Vilks died after a truck collided with the civilian police vehicle in which he was travelling near the Markaryd town in southern Sweden, local media reported. Two police officers who were in the vehicle with the 75-year-old artist also died.

Although the local police did not reveal the identity of the deceased, the artist’s partner confirmed his death, according to Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. “It is still unclear how the accident occurred,” the police said in a statement, adding that they were conducting an investigation. The police added that initial reports suggested no one else was involved in the accident.

The truck driver was taken to a nearby hospital, where he is still under treatment. Vilks’ life was mired in controversy after he sketched Prophet Muhammad’s head on a dog’s body in 2007. He lived under police protection after receiving death threats over the cartoon, which many Muslims around the world regarded blasphemous.

In September 2007, terror outfit al-Qaeda set a £100,000 reward for his death and even offered to increase the amount. The cartoon also triggered diplomatic tensions. Former Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt had to meet ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries to bring an end to the animosity.

In 2010, Swedish newspapers reprinted the cartoon after two men tried to burn down Vilks’ house in southern Sweden. In January 2015, following the attack on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, Vilks feared a similar assault and asked that his security be beefed up. The Charlie Hebdo attack was carried out in revenge for their publication of a cartoon on Muhammad.

At that time, Vilks had said: “This will create fear among people on a whole different level than we’re used to. Charlie Hebdo was a small oasis. Not many dared do what they did.” The Lars Vilks committee awarded its freedom prize to the magazine in 2014, just months before the attack.

In February 2015, Vilks was targeted in a gun attack in Copenhagen during a debate on free speech, where a Danish film director was killed. Last year, a woman from Pennsylvania reportedly pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill him.

Before the Muhammad cartoon, Vilks was mainly known for building a sculpture made of driftwood in a nature reserve in southern Sweden without permission, which triggered a legal battle.

Despite being fined, his seaside sculpture of a jumble of wood nailed together still draws thousands of visitors every year.