Controversial Swedish artist Lars Vilks has published drawings depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a dog which sparked threats from Islamist militant groups.
Swedish artist Lars Vilks' drawings depicting the Prophet Mohammad as a dog sparked threats from Islamist militant groups (Reuters)

Lars Vilks is the Swedish cartoonist who is believed to have been the target of the Copenhagen cafe shooting.

Vilks, 68, has a reputation for deliberate provocations. They range from erecting buildings in nature reserves to the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed as a dog.

Vilks' life and career

Vilks was born in Sweden to a Latvian father and a Swedish mother. He gained a doctorate in art history from Lund University in 1987, before working at the Oslo National Academy of arts until 1997. He then became a professor in art theory at the Bergen Academy of Arts.

Despite being an academically trained art theorist, Vilks is a self-taught artist, favouring conceptual art. He has been on the fringes of the Swedish art establishment for most of his career. His art work is widely perceived in

His artwork is widely perceived in Sweden as being primarily provocative. In 1980 he create two wooden sculptures which are now in the nature reserve at Höganäs in the Skåne area of Sweden.

He first courted controversy in 1996 when he declared the small area where they are sited as an independent country he called Ladonia.

Muhammed cartoon controversy

In 2007 he drew a series of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed as a dog for an art exhibition. The exhibitors pulled the images from show citing security concerns, and other venues and publications refused to show the images.

The cartoons came to the public's attention when the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda published one in an article about censorship.

Strict interpretation of Islamic laws states that no living creature can be portrayed in pictures, nor can the Prophet Mohammed. As the dog is viewed as an unclean animal in Islam, the cartoons were doubly insulting.

Following the cartoon's publication, Vilks was condemned by several Muslim countries and Swedish Muslim organisations, accusing him of blasphemy and insulting the Prophet Mohammed. Vilks also received deaths threats from Islamic extremists and was forced to live under police protection.

Vilks also received deaths threats from Islamic extremists and was forced to live under police protection.

During the following three years, plots to assassinate Vilks were uncovered and stopped in the US and Ireland; Vilks was attacked by Muslim protestors while giving a talk on free speech at Uppsala University; and three men were charged in Gothenburg with conspiracy to commit murder.

The worst violence associated with the cartoons were the Stockholm bombings in 2010. The bomber referenced Vilks' cartoons as part of the inspiration for the attacks, which injured two civilians, and killed the terrorist.

Vilks today

Vilks describes himself as "an equal opportunities offender", saying that he treats all religions equally. In addition to his drawings of the Prophet Muhammed, he has also depicted Jesus as a paedophile.

Islamic State has offered a reward of $150,000 (£97,400) for his assassination.

If Vilks was the intended target of the Copenhagen attack, it would only be the latest attempt on his life. But the one that came closest to suceeding.