Cartoonist’s fatal car crash in Sweden an accident, authorities say

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Lars Vilks - Swedish cartoonist
Lars Vilks

The police car crash in Sweden that killed artist Lars Vilks was an accident, Swedish authorities have said, not a targeted attack on the cartoonist who lived under police protection since his controversial 2007 sketch of the Prophet Mohammed.

An exploding tyre led the driver of the unmarked police car carrying Mr Vilks to lose control over the vehicle, which crashed head-on with a truck on October 4 last year, Swedish authorities said in a statement.

The crash killed three people, including the 75-year-old cartoonist.

Since Mr Vilks was facing death threats for his drawings and had faced previous attempts on his life, the crash raised the question of whether it was a terror attack instead of an accident.

But the Swedish Prosecution Authority said it was “a tragic accident” as it announced the closure of the investigation into the crash after an “extensive analysis, with technical investigations on the spot and the questioning of witnesses”.

“In summary, it is most likely that a tyre on the police vehicle exploded and then the driver lost control of the vehicle, which came over on the other side of the road and collided head-on with the truck,” said chief prosecutor Per Nichols. ”The extensive investigation now shows that no crime has been committed.”

In parallel with the prosecutor’s investigation, police had conducted a preliminary investigation into possible murder in the case. That probe, which also was closed on Wednesday, concluded it was an accident.

Mr Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before his Prophet Mohammed drawing.

At home, he was best known for building a sculpture of driftwood in a nature reserve in southern Sweden without permission, triggering a lengthy legal battle. He was fined, but the seaside sculpture – a jumble of wood nailed together in chaotic fashion – still draws tens of thousands of visitors a year.

The artist’s life changed radically after he drew a sketch of the Prophet Mohammed with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favourable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Al Qaida put a bounty on Mr Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden and in 2014 a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill him.

The following year, a free-speech seminar that Mr Vilks attended in Copenhagen, Denmark, was attacked by a lone gunman who killed a Danish film director and wounded three police officers.

Mr Vilks, who was widely believed to have been the intended target of that 2015 attack, was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards.

The gunman later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and wounded two more officers before he was killed in a firefight with police.

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