Danish cartoonist defends police who protect him

AP News
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Posted: Jan 04, 2010 12:20 PM

The Danish artist whose controversial cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad enraged Muslims around the world said Monday that police cannot protect him from attackers who act spontaneously.

Kurt Westergaard said in an interview with The Associated Press that he believes he is being targeted by Muslim extremists because he stands by his cartoon and insists he has "not done anything wrong."

The 74-year-old artist said he was shocked by Friday's attack during which a Somali man broke into his home armed with an ax.

Police shot the Somali man in the hand and knee, and he was later charged with attempted murder. The man cannot be identified due to a Danish court ban.

Westergaard said police cannot protect him 100 percent from "the terrorist type" who acts spontaneously and is "not part of a conspiracy."

Westergaard's drawing of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban was printed in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper in September 2005. The daily had asked Danish cartoonists to draw Muhammad as a challenge to a perceived self-censorship. In early 2006, Danish and other Western embassies in several Muslim countries were torched by angry protesters who felt the cartoons had profoundly insulted Islam.

"I have not done anything wrong," Westergaard said by telephone on Monday from an undisclosed house where he was kept under police protection. "To me, it was just another day at the office."

Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

In an unrelated development, a Swedish artist who depicted Prophet Muhammad as a dog in a Swedish newspaper in 2007 said he received a telephone threat on Monday. Lars Vilks said an unidentified man with a Swedish accent claimed he was calling from Somalia to tell the artist "he was next in line" after Westergaard.

Police confirmed that Vilks has reported the threat to them, but said it has not been investigated yet.

Westergaard remains a potential target for extremists because his cartoon is viewed as the most provocative of the depictions of Muhammad that 11 other Danish artists had printed in the Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

"Maybe because I am the one who feels the best about standing forward and speaking about what I have done, I stand by my drawing," Westergaard said.

Friday was not the first time the bearded Dane has generated plots against him.

In October, terrorism charges were brought against two Chicago men who allegedly planned to kill him and a newspaper's former cultural editor. That trial has not yet begun.

In 2008, Danish police arrested two Tunisian men living in Denmark suspected of plotting to kill Westergaard. Police failed to substantiate the charges and neither suspect was prosecuted. One was deported and the other was released Monday after an immigration board rejected efforts by Denmark's PET intelligence agency to expel him from the country.

During the interview, Westergaard recalled the Friday evening attack, when someone suddenly started smashing the doors and windows of his home in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Copenhagen. He was alone with his 5-year-old granddaughter who sat in the living room while he locked himself in the bathroom.

"This is just horrible. I see myself standing in the safety room and trying to alert the police while the door bounces more and more as the man hammers with the ax," Westergaard said. Police had told him any attacker would go after him and not family members, so "I felt safe to leave her on the sofa."

"What is important to me is that my grandchild was not hurt," said Westergaard who asked that the girl not be named for security reasons.

Looking at the failed attack, Westergaard said he had become more placid.

"One gets more daring with the age," he said. "I hope I can make it to 80."

He said he has been able to handle "the ire and threats," thanks to the police protection that he has had since February 2008.

The 11 other cartoonists have no protection "but the whole security situation is to be reconsidered," he said, declining to elaborate. Danish officials declined to comment about specific security issues.

Westergaard said he now lives in a safehouse without his wife who is due back from holiday this week.

"I told her there was no need to rush home," he said, laughing. "The home needs a little cleaning. You know, men left at home alone always leave a lot of dishes unwashed ... and there is a lot of broken glass and wood everywhere.."

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AP Writer Malin Rising contributed to this article from Stockholm.