15 Feb 2015

Lars Vilks: the artist with the target painted on his back

Lars Vilks escaped unhurt from a shooting at a Copenhagen cafe yesterday. It is the latest in a string of alleged attempts on his life after he published sketches of the prophet Mohammed.

Lars Vilks in 2010 (Getty)

September 2005: The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten publishes cartoons of Mohammed, defying the Islamic tradition that it is blasphemous to make images of the prophet.

Protests are organised and Danish Muslim groups complain to the government, but prosecutors in the country ruled that no crime had been committed.

July 2007: Lars Vilks, a Swedish conceptual artist, writer, sculptor and professor of art theory, produces a series of caricatures of the prophet Mohammed.

He says his intention is to explore the boundaries of political correctness, noting that artists have tended to shy away from challenging Islam.

The plan is for the pictures to be displayed at an art gallery in Tallerud, but the organisers cancel at the last minute. Other galleries refuse to show the cartoons.

18 August 2007: A regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda, published one of the drawings to illustrate an editorial piece on freedom of speech. The controversy becomes an international incident, with the governments of Iran, Pakistan, Egypt and Jordan condemning the publication.

15 September 2007: The head of al-Qaeda in Iraq offers a reward of $100,000 to anyone who sees that Vilks is “slaughtered like a lamb”.

Vilks told Channel 4 News: “At the time I had no protection. Things began to calm down and by 2010 I thought everything was over.”

9 March 2010: Terrorism charges are brought against Colleen Renee La Rose, an American Muslim convert. La Rose, who posted on YouTube using the name Jihad Jane, had been in touch with suspects in Ireland over a plot to murder Vilks. She is eventually convicted in 2014 and sentenced to 10 years.

Vilks is quoted as saying: “I think they actually should let her loose and give her some therapy because I think that she’s in a bad state, and actually this is a psychological case, in the first run.”

11 May 2010: A Vilks lecture on free speech at Uppsala University is interrupted by Muslim protesters. Vilks is reportedly headbutted but the attacker only succeeds in breaking his glasses. He is led away from the lecture theatre under police escort.

15 May 2010: Arsonists try to burn down Vilks’s house in Scania, Sweden, causing minor damage. The artist is not at home at the time of the attack. Two brothers, described as Swedish nationals of Kosovan origin, are later convicted of attempted arson.

Lars Vilks shows arson damage to his home (Getty)

Vilks told Channel 4 News: “My home was attacked by two Muslims who were trying to burn down my house. They were also equipped with knives. After that I got protection around clock. I’ve been living with that ever since.”

24 November 2010:
A man believed to be a Swedish member of the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab releases a video threatening to behead Vilks.

11 December 2010: Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, a Iraqi-born Swede, sets off two bombs in central Stockholm, killing himself.

Stockholm car bomb (Getty)

Minutes before the blasts, the suicide bomber emails a message to the Swedish news agency TT, claiming that the attacks were revenge for Sweden’s military presence in Afghanistan and for “your stupid support for the pig Vilks”.

11 September 2011:
Four men are arrested near the Roda Sten art gallery in Gothenburg, forcing police to evacuate the opening ceremony of the International Art Biennial. Three of the suspects were later remanded in custody on suspicion of conspiring to murder Vilks.

22 February 2012: Protesters shout abuse and hurl eggs at Vilks as he attempts to give a lecture about the Mohammed cartoons at the university of Karlstad.

March 2013: The al-Qaeda magazine Inspire features a hit list of figures accused of insulting Islam. Vilks features alongside Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie, US pastor Terry Jones, Dutch politician Geert Wilders and Stephane Charbonnier, the editor of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, under the words: “Wanted dead or alive for crimes against Islam.”

Crowds commemorate Stephane Charbonnier

7 January 2015: Charbonnier dies along with 11 others when brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi burst into the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and fire up to 50 shots.

8 January 2015: Vilks gives an interview to Channel 4 News and says: “Provocation and offence is a part of art. If you look at the history of art, that’s the progress in art. You kind of attack the borders and limits and prejudices that always are existing.

“Questioning a religious authority is a very common idea in art. There should normally be no problem with that.

14 February 2015: Vilks is whisked away by his security guards after dozens of shots are fired at the Krudttonden cafe. Film director Finn Nørgaard dies in the shooting and three policemen are wounded.