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Artist defiantly draws Prophet Mohammed

  • Story Highlights
  • Artist Lars Vilks stands by Mohammed cartoon even amid al Qaeda threats
  • Vilks says, "If you don't like it, don't look at it"
  • Woman tells CNN: "I could slaughter him in the name of Allah"
  • Al Qaeda offers $100,000 for killing him, with $50,000 bonus for slitting his throat
  • Next Article in World »
By Paula Newton
CNN
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HOGANAS, Sweden (CNN) -- Swedish artist Lars Vilks says all he's doing is taking a stand in the name of artistic expression. But because of that stand, on this afternoon he's lying low -- on the ground, in fact -- looking for bombs under his car.

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Lars Vilks says if people don't like his artwork, then "don't look at it."

Al Qaeda has put a $100,000 price on his head and offered an extra $50,000 for anyone who murders him by slitting his throat after the eccentric artist and sculptor drew a cartoon depicting the Prophet Mohammed as a dog.

"I don't think it should not be a problem to insult a religion, because it should be possible to insult all religions in a democratic way, " says Vilks from his home in rural Sweden.

"If you insult one, then you should insult the other ones."

His crude, sketched caricature shows the head of Prophet Mohammed on the body of a dog. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and any depiction of the prophet is strictly forbidden.

Vilks, who has been a controversial artist for more than three decades in Sweden, says his drawing was a calculated move, and he wanted it to elicit a reaction. Video Watch "I should slaughter you" »

"That's a way of expressing things. If you don't like it, don't look at it. And if you look at it, don't take it too seriously. No harm done, really," he says.

When it's suggested that might prove an arrogant -- if not insulting -- way to engage Muslims, he is unrelenting, even defiant.

"No one actually loves the truth, but someone has to say it," he says.

Vilks, a self-described atheist, points out he's an equal opportunity offender who in the past sketched a depiction of Jesus as a pedophile.

Still one could argue Vilks should have known better because of what happened in Denmark in 2005, when a cartoonist's depictions of the prophet sparked violent protests in the Muslim world and prompted death threats against that cartoonist's life.

Vilks' cartoon, which was published in August by the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda, hasn't reached that level of global protests, although it has stoked plenty of outrage.

Muslims in Sweden demanded an apology from the newspaper, which has stood by Vilks on his freedom of expression stand. Pakistan and Iran also lodged formal protests with Sweden.

One Swedish Muslim woman who lives just an hour-and-a-half drive from Vilks said she hopes to make good on the al Qaeda threat and slaughter Vilks like a lamb.

"I can do this in the name of Allah, and I will not fail. I could slaughter him in the name of Allah," says the woman who identified herself only as Amatullah.

She adds, "If I get the opportunity."

Dressed in a black burqa from head to toe and uttering death threat after death threat, the woman -- a wife and mother -- says she is defending her religion and her prophet if she manages to kill Vilks.

Amatullah has already been fined for issuing death threats. Still, she claims she will never stop taunting him.

Swedish police, who declined CNN's request for an interview, have advised Vilks to abandon his home.

But the artist still works there by day and travels to a safe house by night. Vilks knows his defiance could get him killed, but he says his art is worth dying for.

As he sits at his computer, his phone buzzes with a text message. Another death threat has just come in, this one from Pakistan.

"I will kill you, you son a bitch," he reads.

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There are hundreds of threats just like this one on his mobile phone, on his answering machine and in his e-mail inbox.

"You get used to it," he says. "It's a bit of hide and seek. It's like living in a film." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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