The Swedish artist who stoked controversy in 2007 with sketches portraying Mohammed as a dog responded to Saturday’s apparent suicide bombing in Stockholm, the first ever in the Nordic country, by shrugging off claims that he was to blame.
As expected, many people were blaming him for the terrorist attack, Lars Vilks wrote on his Web site Sunday. “Their logic is that one must be indulgent towards terrorists,” he added.
Anders Thornberg, head of security measures at the Swedish security service Saepo, said the two blasts in a busy shopping precinct were being investigated as a terrorist attack. Two people were injured when a car exploded and one man – suspected to be the bomber – was killed in a second blast nearby.
Minutes before the blasts, Saepo and by a Swedish news agency received emails containing sound files in which Swedes were condemned for supporting Vilks’ cartoons and for deploying troops in Afghanistan.
“Now your children, your daughters and your sisters will die as our brothers, our sisters and our children are dying,” Swedish media outlets cited the message as saying.
An Islamist Web site posted a picture of one Taimour Abdulwahab al-Abdaly, saying he had “carried out the martyrdom operation in Stockholm,” according to the SITE Institute, which monitors radical Internet sites.
The 29 year-old Iraqi-born Swedish national reportedly had been living and studying in Britain until recently.
After a meeting Sunday of a joint counter-terrorism body, Saepo said in a statement it appeared as though the attack was the work of a single perpetrator, but that may change during the course of the investigation.
Vilks’ sketches depicting a dog with the head of a bearded man wearing a turban appeared in regional Swedish newspaper in 2007, accompanying an editorial reacting to a decision by Swedish art galleries not to display Vilks’ drawings. The column argued that the right to freedom of religion and “the right to ridicule a religion” go together in a free society.
Al-Qaeda terrorists based in Iraq posted a message on a jihadist Web site offering to pay $100,000 to anyone who killed Vilks, offering to up the bounty by 50 percent if his throat was slit.
After an assassination plot was uncovered against Vilks early this year three Swedish newspapers reprinted the sketch, drawing fresh condemnations from Muslim bodies led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). Vilks’ house was firebombed last May, and when two brothers – Swedes of Kosovar origin – appeared in court on arson charges, one described the artist as “Islam’s greatest enemy right now.”
Vilks wrote Sunday that it was bad news that his “art project” had its first fatality. “The good news is that the person killed was the terrorist himself, of his own volition.”
As another Western country comes to terms with the Islamist terror threat, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in a statement Sunday cautioned against drawing “hasty conclusions” about the events, and said “we must safeguard the open society where people can live together side by side.”
Thornberg of Saepo said the security service was not currently planning to raise the threat level, but said that would be kept under constant review.
Sweden is among several traditionally liberal European countries where tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims have increased in recent years, with Christians and secularists voicing concern that some Muslims have an Islamist agenda.
Growing Muslim immigrant communities say they are victims of intolerance, pointing to the rise of far right parties like the Sweden Democrats, which has existed for three decades but entered parliament for the first time in elections in September; and Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands.
Around four or five percent of Sweden’s population is Muslim.