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Swedish artist Lars Vilks talks on a phone at his home
Lars Vilks has received anonymous death threats by phoneImage: AP

Drawn to murder?

March 10, 2010

Irish police arrested seven Muslims for planning to kill a Swedish cartoonist who drew a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog's body. In response, several Swedish papers reprinted the cartoons on Wednesday.


Several Swedish newspapers on Wednesday reprinted a controversial caricature of the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, the day after an alleged plot to murder the cartoonist was disclosed.

Stockholm tabloid Expressen said it decided to reprint the caricature "in support of freedom of speech." An editorial in the Dagens Nyheter daily said a "threat against (the cartoonist) is ultimately a threat against all Swedes."

Plotters arrested

Irish police on Tuesday arrested four men and three women who they say planned to kill Lars Vilks. The Swedish cartoonist in 2007 drew a caricature of Prophet Muhammad's head attached to the body of a dog to illustrate a newspaper editorial about freedom of expression and religion.

The seven, ranging from their mid-twenties to late forties, were from Morocco and Yemen but living legally in Ireland, according to Irish media reports.

Death threats

Vilks has a price on his head. A group connected to terrorist group al Qaeda had offered $100,000 (74,000 euros) to anyone who murdered him and a $50,000 bonus for doing it by slitting his throat. The same group offered a $50,000 reward for the murder of Ulf Johansson, the editor of the paper that published Vilks' drawing.

On Wednesday, several newspapers in Sweden had published the cartoon, either as a statement in favor of free speech or as part of their news coverage.

Colleen LaRose
An American convert to Islam, LaRose posted online as "JihadJane"Image: AP

Vilks told Swedish news agency TT that he had received threatening anonymous phone calls from Somalia since the beginning of the year. He said he was not rattled by the plot to kill him.

"I'm not shaking with fear, exactly," he told TT. "I have prepared in different ways and I have an axe here in case someone should manage to get in through the window."

A spokesman for the Swedish security police said it knew of the Irish arrests but refused to comment regarding any threats to Vilks. Irish police had worked in cooperation with European security services, the CIA and the FBI.

"Right now we are in continuous touch with the authorities involved, including our Irish counterparts," spokesman Mattias Lindholm told Agence France Presse.

The case has similarities to that of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose 2005 drawing of Muhammad wearing a bomb as a turban sparked protests and riots from Muslims who considered it offensive. In January, Danish police shot and killed an armed man who had come to Westergaard's house to kill him.


A Palestinian child walks on a Danish flag during a protest
The "Danish cartoons" unleashed protests in the Muslim worldImage: AP

The U.S. Justice Department also announced hours after the arrests that it had charged a Pennsylvanian woman with "conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists, conspiracy to kill in a foreign country, making false statements to a government official and attempted identity theft." They identified her as Colleen LaRose, an American convert to Islam who sometimes used the online aliases "JihadJane" and "Fatima LaRose."

Justice Department officials would not say whether LaRose was connected to those arrested in Ireland, but said she had asked about obtaining permanent residency in Sweden at a Swedish embassy. Her indictment documents contained a message from someone in South Asia who instructed her to kill an unnamed person in Sweden.

"I will make this my goal till i achieve it or die trying," La Rose allegedly replied.

Photos of LaRose show a blond, middle-aged woman with blue or green eyes and fair skin.

Her case "shatters any lingering thought that we can spot a terrorist based on appearance," US Justice Department attorney Michael Levy said in a statement.

Editor: Jennifer Abramsohn

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