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3 arrested in plot to kill artist in Sweden

By Karl Ritter
Associated Press / September 22, 2011

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STOCKHOLM - Swedish prosecutors suspect that three men arrested in an antiterrorism sting this month plotted to kill an artist who depicted the Prophet Mohammed as a dog, a newspaper reported yesterday.

Citing classified material from the investigation, the Metro newspaper said that the target of the plot in the west coast city of Goteborg was Lars Vilks, who lives under police protection due to death threats over his drawing of Mohammed in 2007.

Authorities have remained tightlipped about the case.

Vilks said that he had not been given details about the plot and didn’t know whether he was the target. But he said Swedish authorities had advised him to cancel a planned visit to a book fair in Goteborg because of it.

An art gallery celebrating the inauguration of an exhibition was evacuated in connection with the arrests on Sept. 10, sending jitters through Sweden on the eve of the 10-year-anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Police arrested four men, originally from Somalia and Iraq, and initially had suspected them of plotting a terrorist attack. Three of them are now being held on preliminary charges of conspiracy to commit murder. The fourth suspect was released by a court, citing insufficient evidence.

Metro said the classified evidence includes references to a pocket knife and telephone conversations between the suspects. One of them is also supposed to have visited the art gallery to inquire about Vilks.

The artist had mentioned on his blog that he planned to visit the exhibition, which runs for two months, but he did not attend the opening ceremony. Vilks said he still planned to visit the exhibition but dropped plans to attend an event at a separate book festival because of “the incident in Goteborg and the attention surrounding it.’’

The 65-year-old artist has faced numerous threats over his 2007 sketch, which rekindled a debate over free speech and Islam that had raged a year earlier after a Danish newspaper printed 12 cartoons of Mohammed. Images of the prophet, even favorable ones, are considered blasphemous by many Muslims.

A Pennsylvania woman this year pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill Vilks. Two brothers were convicted of trying to burn down Vilks’s house last year in southern Sweden. Also in 2010, angry protesters shouting “God is great’’ in Arabic disrupted a university lecture by Vilks.

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