Swedish artist Lars Vilks was killed in a car accident on Sunday along with two police officers whose vehicle careened into oncoming traffic and collided with a truck.
The accident happened near the small town of Markaryd, on the north-south E4 highway. The unmarked police vehicle veered into the truck’s path before blasting through the guardrail, with both vehicles catching fire shortly after colliding. The 45-year-old truck driver was sent to the hospital while everyone in Vilks’ car died. So far, they are unsure what caused the accident.
Al Qaeda had previously placed a reward of $100,000 for his murder after Vilks drew the prophet Mohammad’s head on the body of a dog in 2007. However, foul play is not yet suspected.
“This is a very tragic incident. It is now important to all of us that we do everything we can to investigate what happened and what caused the collision,” said Swedish police on Monday. “Initially, there is nothing that points to anyone else being involved.”
Regional police head Carina Persson stated, “The person we were protecting and two colleagues died in this inconceivable and terribly sad tragedy.”
Police are investigating the possibility of a tire explosion, though the vehicle had puncture-proof tires.
Sweden’s Culture Minister Amanda Lind said on Monday that Vilks’ round-the-clock protection went into place “due to the fact that he made use of his freedom of expression and his artistic freedom.”
Vilks, 75, had been under constant police watch since 2010 after receiving death threats for his provocative depiction of the prophet Mohammad, which stirred the Muslim community into feeling the piece was blasphemous and incredibly offensive. That year, two men attempted to burn down his home in southern Sweden.
A woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to plotting his murder in 2014.
He escaped death again in 2015 when he was the suspected target of a gun attack at a free-speech conference in Copenhagen that ultimately left a Danish film director dead and three police officers wounded. The meeting was meant to mark the 25th anniversary of an Iranian fatwa against British writer Salman Rushdie.
Anders Thornberg, Sweden’s top police chief, said the investigation is underway, but they expect it” to take a relatively long time.”
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