A Swedish cartoonist who lived under police protection for over a decade after sketching the Prophet Muhammad died in a car crash on Sunday, according to police.
75-yer-old Lars Vilks and two police bodyguards were killed in a head-on collision with a truck, Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden, told a press conference.
She said the police car, which was being driven by one of the bodyguards, had left Stockholm and was heading south when it veered into the path of the truck. Both vehicles then burst into flames.
The truck driver survived but has sustained serious injuries and was air-lifted to hospital.
The accident occurred near Markaryd, around 67 miles north-east of Malmo.
“There is nothing else for now that indicates that it was something else but a traffic accident,” Ms Persson added.
Police said they did not know why the car drove into the wrong lane but they were looking at the possibility that one of the tyres burst, as fragments were reportedly found on the road.
The car transporting Mr Vilks had puncture-proof tyres, police said.
Two investigations have now been launched. Chief Prosecutor Kajsa Sundgren said she had taken over a preliminary investigation into whether “any police officer may have committed a crime in connection with the accident”.
She also added that they are investigating whether the accident might have been caused by someone else.
According to news website, Norway Today, the emergency services said it would have been difficult for a car to cross into the other lane on that stretch of the road as the lanes are divided by barriers.
“There is a lot of speculation going on about what may have happened, and I am careful not to contribute to them,” said home affairs minister Mikael Damberg. “I know that the police take this very seriously.”
Vilks’s life was mired in controversy after he sketched the 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, 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 met ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries in a bid to bring an end to the animosity.
In 2010, Swedish newspapers reprinted the cartoon after two men tried to burn down Vilks’s house in southern Sweden.
In January 2015, following an attack on the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo – carried out in revenge for their publication of a cartoon of Muhammad – Vilks feared a similar assault and asked that his security be ramped up.
At that time, Vilks 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 had 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, triggering a legal battle. Despite being fined, his seaside sculpture of a jumble of wood nailed together still draws thousands of visitors every year.
Additional reporting by AP
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