STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since making a sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body in 2007, died in a weekend car crash along with two police bodyguards, police said Monday. He was 75.
Vilks and two plainclothes officers were killed in a head-on crash with a truck on Sunday afternoon, said Carina Persson, the police chief for southern Sweden. All three were killed instantly. The 45-year-old truck driver was flown to a hospital with serious injuries.
Persson stated that the police car had left Stockholm, and was headed south. The truck veered into the path and both vehicles burst in flames. The accident occurred near Markaryd, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Malmo, Sweden‘s third largest city.
” There is no other evidence for it being anything else than a traffic accident,” Persson stated at a press conference.
Sweden‘s top police chief, Anders Thornberg, said an investigation would take place, but was expected “to take a relatively long time.”
Sweden‘s Culture Minister Amanda Lind called called it “an extremely tragic traffic accident.”
Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before 2007, when he drew a sketch of Muhammad with a dog’s body. Conservative Muslims consider dogs unclean and Islamic law generally prohibits depictions of the prophet with dogs, even if they are favorable.
He faced threats to his life throughout the years.
In 2014, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to kill him.
The following year, a free speech seminar that Vilks attended at Copenhagen, Denmark was attacked by a gunman. He killed a Danish film director, and injured three officers.
Vilks, who was widely believed to have been the intended target of that 2015 attack, was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards. After killing a Jewish security guard at a synagogue, the gunman wounded two more officers and was killed in a brawl with police.
Police stated Monday that they didn’t know why Viks drove in the wrong lane, but were looking into whether a tire may have exploded. Police said that the car was equipped with puncture-proof tires.
The accident occurred on Sunday afternoon along the north-south E4 highway. Senior police officer Stefan Siteus stated that the unmarked police car appeared to have rammed through the cable guardrail that separated the north-bound and south-bound lanes.
” We found tire residues on the E4 prior to the accident and are investigating the possibility of a tire explosion,” Siteus stated.
Siteus stated that the vehicle was 4.5 tons in weight, which could explain why it could pass through a cable guardrail. He added that the speed limit at the site was 110 kilometers per hour (68 mph). A normal large vehicle is less than 2 tonnes.
Two investigations were underway. Kajsa Sundgren, Chief Prosecutor, stated that she had initiated a preliminary investigation to determine if any police officers may have committed a crime related to the accident .”
The police are investigating whether the accident was caused by another person, she stated.
” There is a lot speculation about what might have happened and I am careful to not contribute to it,” Mikael Damberg, Home Affairs Minister, told the Swedish news agency TT. “I know the police take this very seriously .”
His most famous pieces included “Nimis” — a sculpture of driftwood built without permission in Sweden‘s Kullaberg nature reserve — as well as Prophet Muhammad drawings, including the one that showed the prophet as a dog.
Vilks originally planned to display the drawing in an exhibit at a Swedish cultural Heritage Center, but security concerns forced the removal of the drawing. The drawing went unnoticed for a while, until a Swedish newspaper published an editorial protecting freedom of expression.
Several of his work, including driftwood sculptures, Mohammad drawings and Mohammad drawings (including the one that shows the head of the Muslim prophet on a dog’s body), are currently on view in Warsaw, Poland. These works are part of an exhibition that is being curated by a right-wing director who aims to challenge left-wing politics.
Jan M. Olsen from Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.
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