Arrests over plot to kill Muhammad cartoonist

Image: TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Sweden-Islam-media
Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks poses for a photo in September 2007 after a reward was said to have been offered for his death.Afp / AFP/Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

Seven people were arrested in the Irish Republic on Tuesday over an alleged plot to assassinate a Swedish cartoonist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog, Irish police said.

Al-Qaida put a $100,000 bounty on the head of cartoonist Lars Vilks after a newspaper published his cartoon in August 2007.

The four men and three women were detained in the south of the country after an investigation involving European security agencies and the United States' CIA and FBI, the U.K.-based Press Association reported.

The suspects were all Muslim, according to media reports, and the BBC reported that they ranged in age from their mid-20s to late-40s.

Irish Police said the arrests were part of an investigation into a "conspiracy to murder an individual in another jurisdiction."

'Slaughtered like a lamb'
In September 2007, the BBC reported that Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, the supposed head of al-Qaida in Iraq, had said the reward would be increased by half if Vilks was "slaughtered like a lamb."

Ireland's RTE news network said that five were detained in Waterford and two others in Cork.

The suspects were being questioned at police stations in Waterford, Tramore, Dungarvan and Thomastown, RTE said. All were detained under a law which allows them to be held for up to a week.

Those in custody are originally from Morocco and Yemen, RTE said, adding that it was understood they all had refugee status and were legally in the country.

Shortly after the cartoon was published, Vilks told CNN he had drawn the sketch because "it should be possible to insult all religions in a democratic way."

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

"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."

Any visual representation of the Prophet is regarded as blasphemous by Muslims and many also view the dog as an impure animal.

Several Muslim countries protested after the Vilks cartoon was published, which was more than a year after riots broke out over Danish cartoonists' depictions of the Prophet.

Kurt Westergaard, a Danish cartoonist who in 2005 depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban, received death threats.

In January this year, a Somali man was arrested after breaking into his home in western Denmark armed with an ax.