STOCKHOLM — The point of a caricature depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog was to show that artistic freedom allows mockery of all religions, including the most sacred symbols of Islam, the Swedish artist who created it said Wednesday.
Lars Vilks – the target of an alleged murder plot involving an American woman who dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" – told The Associated Press he has no regrets about the drawing, which is considered deeply offensive by many Muslims.
"I'm actually not interested in offending the prophet. The point is actually to show that you can," Vilks said in an interview in Stockholm. "There is nothing so holy you can't offend it."
Vilks made his rough sketch showing Muhammad's head on a dog's body more than a year after 12 Danish newspaper cartoons of the prophet sparked furious protests in Muslim countries in 2006.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Vilks submitted the drawing to an exhibit at a Swedish cultural heritage center, which turned it down, citing security concerns. The issue went largely unnoticed until a Swedish newspaper printed the drawing with an editorial defending the freedom of expression.
The publication led to protests from Muslim countries, and briefly revived a heated debate in the West and the Muslim world about religious sensitivities and the limits of free speech.
It also led to numerous death threats against Vilks, who was temporarily moved to a secret location after al-Qaida in Iraq put a $100,000 bounty on his head in September 2007.
The 63-year-old artist told AP he has now built his own defense system, including a "homemade" safe room and a barbed-wire sculpture that could electrocute potential intruders. He also has an ax "to chop down" anyone trying to climb through the windows of his home, in southern Sweden.
"If something happens, I know exactly what to do," Vilks said.
He said he believes the suspects in the latest alleged plot to kill him – seven people arrested in Ireland and a Pennsylvania woman held in the U.S. – were not professionals but "rather low-tech."
He said he had learned from American media reports that Colleen R. LaRose, who called herself JihadJane in a YouTube video, had visited the area where he lives, but he didn't know whether that was correct. "I'm glad she didn't kill me," Vilks said, with a half-smile.
Nalin Pekgul, a moderate Muslim and high-ranking member of Sweden's opposition Social Democratic Party, told Swedish Radio the threats against Vilks were unacceptable but added his drawing had profoundly hurt Muslims.
"A dog is unclean. To describe Muhammad as a dog is like saying you are unclean" to Muslims, said Pekgul, a Kurdish immigrant from Turkey.
An eccentric man with disheveled gray hair and thick-lensed glasses, Vilks referred to himself as "the artist" and described his life as a movie plot.
"It's a good story. It's about the bad guys and a good guy, and they try to kill him," he said.
LaRose had discussions of her alleged plans with at least one of the suspects apprehended in Ireland, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to discuss details of the investigation.
Irish authorities said Wednesday those arrested there were two Algerians, two Libyans, a Palestinian, a Croatian and an American woman married to one of the Algerian suspects. They were not identified by name.
Swedish police have kept a close eye on threats against Vilks, but he doesn't have round-the-clock protection.
Vilks has said he was threatened shortly after an ax-wielding man on Jan. 1 broke into the home of Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, who drew one of the 12 Muhammad caricatures that prompted the 2006 uproar. Westergaard locked himself in a safe room, while police shot and wounded the attacker.
At least three Swedish newspapers reprinted Vilks' drawing Wednesday, citing its news value and the defense of free speech.
Associated Press writers Louise Nordstrom in Stockholm, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin and Devlin Barrett in Washington contributed to this report.