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Swedish artist goes into hiding following Al Qaeda death threat

As tension mounted over a drawing offensive to Muslims, Swedish police told artist Lars Vilks he was no longer safe at home.

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Almost a year and a half after 12 Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad sparked worldwide protest that left scores dead, Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks has ignited similar controversy. After Mr. Vilks's controversial series of drawings featuring Islam's prophet with the body of a dog garnered attention in Sweden – art galleries refused to display them – Nerikes Allehanda, a Swedish newspaper, printed one in August. As with its Danish predecessor, the cartoon drew outrage from the Islamic world and has started a debate about freedom of expression. On Monday, the situation became even more serious, with Vilks going into hiding following a death threat from Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In a statement issued on Saturday by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the group's leader, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, called for the killing of Vilks and his editor Ulf Johansson, reports Al Jazeera.

"We are calling for the assassination of cartoonist Lars Vilks who dared insult our prophet, peace be upon him, and we announce a reward during this generous month of Ramadan of $100,000 for the one who kills this criminal," he said.
"The award will be increased to $150,000 if he were to be slaughtered like a lamb."

Swedish police told Vilks that he was no longer safe in his home and have relocated him to an undisclosed location. Vilks, who says he's willing to move and can "do most of his work sitting in front of his computer," has remained defiant throughout the dispute, reports The Local, a Swedish newspaper. Despite being forced into hiding, when asked if the drawings were worth all of the trouble, he remained unapologetic.

"Yes, I still think so. I think the artwork has developed well so far and is on its way towards becoming superb," he said.
Vilks described the events and the debate surrounding his drawings as a repeat of the Danish caricature row, except on a smaller scale and so far without bloodshed.
"I still hold out strong hopes of a happy ending in that this too may end up as a farce," he said.

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