Seven people have been arrested in the Irish Republic over an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist for depicting the Prophet Muhammad, police say.
The four men and three women are all Muslim immigrants, according to media reports, though a police statement did not confirm this.
Cartoonist Lars Vilks had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in the Nerikes Allehanda newspaper.
Islamic militants put a $100,000 bounty on his head.
Mr. Vilks was quoted as saying he was unfazed by the arrests, which he said he thought could be linked to two death threats he had received by telephone in January.
Irish police said the seven suspects were arrested after an investigation into a “conspiracy to murder an individual in another jurisdiction,” a probe that also involved police in the US and other European countries. (BBC) Police did not confirm that Vilks was the target. The suspects ranged from their mid-20s to late-40s.
Ireland’s RTE news network reported that five were detained in Waterford and two others in Cork. RTF said those in custody were originally refugees from Morocco and Yemen, but had gained asylum and were in the Republic of Ireland legally.
Mr. Vilks has been under police protection in Sweden since threats were made against his life. “I’m not shaking with fear, exactly,” he told Swedish news agency TT after Tuesday’s arrests. “I have prepared in different ways and I have an axe here in case someone should manage to get through the window.” (BBC)
In 2007 a group linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq offered a $100,000 reward for killing Mr. Vilks, and a 50% bonus if he was “slaughtered like a lamb” by having his throat cut. (BBC) It offered another $50,000 for the murder of Ulf Johansson, editor-in-chief of the regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda.
The Vilks controversy arose in 2007, when his entry in an arts project was published by the newspaper. It pictured a dog with the head of a bearded man in a turban. Several Muslim countries protested against the picture. At the time, Swedish officials expressed regret at any hurt caused to Muslims’ feelings, but said the government could not prevent the publication of such drawings because of media freedom rules.
“It should be possible to insult all religions in a democratic way,” Vilks told CNN at his home in rural Sweden in 2007, after the controversy erupted. “If you insult one, then you should insult the other ones.”
Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and any depiction of the prophet is strictly forbidden and considered as blasphemy. Vilks said his drawing was a calculated move, and he wanted to elicit a reaction. “That’s a way of expressing things. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it. And if you look at it, don’t take it too seriously. No harm done, really,” he said. When it’s suggested that might prove an arrogant – if not insulting – way to engage Muslims, he is unrelenting, even defiant. “No one actually loves the truth, but someone has to say it,” he says. (CNN)
Vilks, a self-described atheist, points out he’s an equal opportunity offender who in the past sketched a depiction of Jesus as a pedophile.
His cartoon came on the heels of Muslim outrage about cartoons originally published in Denmark in 2005. The republication of the cartoons several months later sparked violent protests in the Muslim world and prompted death threats against at least one cartoonist’s life. Vilk’s cartoon, which was published in August 2007 by the Nerikes Allehanda, did not provoke that level of global protests, although it had stoked plenty of outrage.
Muslims in Sweden demanded an apology from the newspaper, which stood by Vilks. Pakistan and Iran also lodged formal protests with Sweden.
In January, one of the cartoonists whose drawing appeared in Jyllands-Posten, the Dane Kurt Westergaard, was targeted in his own home, allegedly by a Somali radical Muslim with an axe. Mr. Westergaard, who escaped unharmed, had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban.
Mr. Vilks told The Associated Press news agency that the telephone threats in January had come from “a Swedish-speaking Somali. He reminded me about what happened to Westergaard and threatened with a follow-up and said that ‘now it’s your turn’.” (BBC)