18:24 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010
Seven people have been arrested in the Irish Republic over an alleged plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist for depicting the Prophet Muhammad, police say. The four men and three women are all Muslim immigrants, according to media reports, though a police statement did not confirm this.
Cartoonist Lars Vilks had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog in the Nerikes Allehanda newspaper. Islamic militants put a $100,000 (£67,000) bounty on his head. Mr Vilks was quoted as saying he was unfazed by the arrests, which he said he thought could be linked to two death threats he had received by telephone in January.
Irish police said the seven suspects were arrested after an investigation into a "conspiracy to murder an individual in another jurisdiction", a probe that also involved police in the US and other European countries. "I have an axe here in case someone should manage to get in through the window"
The suspects ranged in age from their mid-20s to late-40s. Ireland's RTE news network reported that five were detained in Waterford and two others in Cork. RTE said those in custody were originally refugees from Morocco and Yemen, but had gained asylum and were in the Republic of Ireland legally.
Mr Vilks has been under police protection in Sweden since threats were made against his life. "I'm not shaking with fear, exactly," he told Swedish news agency TT after Tuesday's arrests. "I have prepared in different ways and I have an axe here in case someone should manage to get in through the window."
In 2007 a group linked to al-Qaeda in Iraq offered a $100,000 reward for killing Mr Vilks, and a 50% bonus if he was "slaughtered like a lamb" by having his throat cut.
It offered another $50,000 for the murder of Ulf Johansson, editor-in-chief of the regional newspaper, Nerikes Allehanda.
The Vilks controversy arose in 2007, when his entry in an arts project was published by the newspaper. It pictured a dog with the head of a bearded man in a turban. Several Muslim countries protested against the picture. At the time, Swedish officials expressed regret at any hurt caused to Muslims' feelings, but said the government could not prevent the publication of such drawings because of media freedom rules.
The case came about a year and a half after a series of depictions of Muhammad in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten paper caused an uproar in early 2006. Those cartoons sparked protests from Muslims around the world. Dozens of people were killed in riots. Muslims regard any image of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemy.
In January, one of the cartoonists whose drawing appeared in Jyllands-Posten, the Dane Kurt Westergaard, was targeted in his own home, allegedly by a Somali radical Muslim with an axe. Mr Westergaard, who escaped unharmed, had depicted the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb in his turban. Mr Vilks told The Associated Press news agency that the telephone threats in January had come from "a Swedish-speaking Somali. He reminded me about what had happened to Westergaard and threatened with a follow-up and that 'now it's your turn'."
[Hey al-Qaeda: in Ireland you first shoot your opponents in the knees (kneecapping) so they can never walk normally again]