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Al-Qaeda offers $100K bounty for Swedish newspaper editor, cartoonist

The Swedish cartoonist who depicted Islam's prophet Mohammed with the body of a dog has gone into hiding following a death threat from Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Lars Vilks, who was whisked away by the police when he returned to Sweden from Germany on Sunday, said police have described the threats against him as "very serious." The leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, offered $100,000 over the weekend for Vilks's murder. He said the bounty would be upped to $150,000 if Vilks was "slaughtered like a lamb."

Swedish artist Lars Vilks meets the press at the entrance of the national Swedish Television (SVT) headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden. Sweden's prime minister on Sunday appealed for calm following an Al-Qaeda death warrant on two journalists for a cartoon portraying the Prophet Mohammed as a dog and threats to attack top Swedish firms. (AFP/SCANPIX/Henrik Montgomery)

"I can't live here," Vilks told Reuters by phone. "SAPO (Sweden's security service) have judged that it (the threat) is very serious." He was allowed to go home and collect some things but it may be a long time before he is able to return again, he said.

"We have a real problem here," Vilks told the Associated Press (AP) by telephone. "We can only hope that Muslims in Europe and in the Western world choose to distance themselves from this and support the idea of freedom of expression."

Ulf Johansson, editor in chief of Nerikes Allehanda, said he took the bounty "more seriously" than other threats he had received. "This is more explicit. It's not every day somebody puts a price on your head." Johansson said he had contacted the police and that they had already started work on the threat.

In an audiotape posted on the Internet, Baghdadi offered a lower bounty ($50,000) for the death of the editor of daily Nerikes Allehanda, which published the drawing last month in what it called a defence of free speech. Top Swedish firms such as truck maker Volvo, mobile network builder Ericsson and retailer Ikea were also threatened unless an apology was forthcoming for the drawing.

Liberals protest with their mouths symbolically gagged outside the editorial office of the local newspaper 'Nerikes Allehanda' in Orebro August 31, 2007, against Iranian and Pakistani demands for the Swedish government to intervene. The daily 'Nerikes Allehanda' published a drawing by Swedish artist Lars Vilks depicting the head of the Muslim prophet Mohammed on the body of a dog last month, prompting the Iranian and Pakistani government to summon Sweden's charge d'affaires to object to what they called a disrespectful drawing. (Reuters/Fredrik Sandberg/Scanpix)

Several countries, along with Swedish Muslims, have strongly criticised the cartoon. Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt apologised for any offence caused but declared his support for freedom of expression. Reinfeldt on Sunday sought to defuse tensions and urged "reflection" after talks with local Islamic leaders.

"We are appealing for calm, we are appealing for reflection, we reject these calls to violence and we reject any attempts to aggravate the situation," the conservative leader told the domestic TT news agency. He underscored Sweden's commitment to freedom of speech and expression — echoing the local media on Sunday which solidly backed the two embattled journalists.

"We live in a country where freedom of expression is not dictated by fundamentalists, nor by governments," wrote Dagens Nyheter chief editor Thorbjoern Larsson in an editorial. "Dagens Nyheter has already published the cartoon. To me, publishing it was the obvious thing to do."

The cartoon featuring the Prophet Mohammed's head on a dog's body was originally published in Nerikes Allehanda on August 18 and immediately provoked protests by Muslims in the western town of Oerebro, where the paper is based. Islam considers idolatry blasphemous and the depiction of Mohammed in any pictorial form is strictly forbidden.

Pakistani protesters shout anti-Swedish slogans during a protest in Lahore August 31, 2007. A leading Swedish newspaper earlier this month said the country would not apologise for the recent publication of a prophet Mohammed cartoon which has inflamed devout Muslims around the world. (AFP/File/Arif Ali)

The Svenska Dagbladet daily urged Swedes to defend their right to free speech. "Freedom of expression is not a privilege for the media companies and journalists but a guarantee that citizens can have different impressions, numerous sources of information and inspiration as well as the possibility to draw their own conclusions."

“Freedom to draw cartoons cannot be taken away by such barbaric fundamentalism,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “Making death threats to the author of a cartoon by promising people a reward if they kill them is a shocking lack of humanity that must be soundly condemned.”

“The Swedish authorities and Muslim organisations in Sweden have done everything to calm the situation and head off a major crisis of the kind that erupted after publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed in Denmark in September 2005,” it said. “Those making the threats now are pouring oil on the fire. We give Vilks and the editor our total support and call on everyone who stands for freeedom of expression to do the same.”

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has condemned the death threats and expressed support for the Swedish publishing community. "While appreciating that the publication of the drawing may have caused offence to many Muslims, WAN emphasises that the Nerikes Allehanda enjoys full freedom of expression and that a choice to publish the drawing falls within that right and should be duly respected," the Paris-based WAN said.

Date posted: September 18, 2007 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 18275