AP Interview: Swedish artist calls Muhammad cartoon murder plot ‘low-tech,’ has no regrets

By Louise Nordstrom, AP
Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Swedish artist in prophet drawing has no regrets

STOCKHOLM — A Swedish artist who angered Muslims by drawing the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog said Wednesday he has no regrets and believes the suspects in an alleged plot to kill him were not professionals.

Lars Vilks, who has faced numerous death threats over the controversial cartoon, said he has built his own defense system, including a “homemade” safe room and a barbed-wire sculpture that could electrocute potential intruders.

He said he also has an ax “to chop down” anyone trying to climb through the windows of his home in southern Sweden.

“If something happens, I know exactly what to do,” Vilks told The Associated Press in an interview in Stockholm.

The 63-year-old artist said the suspects in an alleged plot to kill him — seven people arrested in Ireland and a Philadelphia woman held in the U.S. — were “not the real hard professionals. I think they are rather low-tech.”

He said he had learned from American media reports that the woman held in the U.S., Colleen R. LaRose, who had called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video, had visited the area where he lives, but he didn’t know whether that was correct. “I’m glad she didn’t kill me,” Vilks said, with a half-smile.

An eccentric man with disheveled gray hair and thick-lensed glasses, Vilks referred to himself as “the artist” and described his life after his Muhammad drawing was first published by a Swedish newspaper in 2007 as if it were a movie plot.

“It’s a good story. It’s about the bad guys and a good guy, and they try to kill him,” he said.

“They have this woman also which I think is a good part of the plot with this fantastic name, ‘JihadJane,’ who is actually doing some scouting there in the surroundings,” Vilks added. “As I can see it, you have something of a film there. But as I said, I believe they’re a bit low-tech.”

LaRose had discussions of her alleged plans with at least one of the suspects apprehended in Ireland, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn’t authorized to discuss details of the investigation.

Irish authorities said Wednesday those arrested there were two Algerians, two Libyans, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerian suspects. They were not identified by name.

Vilks’ drawing was not among the 12 Danish newspaper cartoons of Muhammad that sparked furious protests in Muslim countries in 2006.

It drew international attention more than a year later after a Swedish art gallery refused to put it on display, citing security concerns. A Swedish newspaper printed the drawing alongside an editorial defending the freedom of expression.

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Swedish police have kept a close eye on threats against Vilks, but he doesn’t have round-the-clock protection. He was temporarily moved to a secret location after al-Qaida in Iraq put $100,000 bounty on his head.

The Swedish security police, SAPO, declined comment on the probes in Ireland and the U.S., but said they are reviewing potential threats against Vilks and against Sweden.

At least three Swedish newspapers reprinted Vilks’ cartoon Wednesday, citing its news value and the defense of free speech.

Vilks said he had no regrets about the drawing.

“As an artist you have to take a stand for things. If you do something you have to take full responsibility for it,” he said, adding the purpose was to demonstrate that no religious symbol was off-limits to artistic freedom.

“I’m actually not interested in offending the prophet. The point is actually to show that you can,” he said. “There is nothing so holy you can’t offend it.”

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