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Artist, Believed Target Of Copenhagen Attack, Still In Hiding

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Lars Vilks is on Al-Qaida's kill list for crimes against Islam. That means the possibility of violence is part of his daily life. Bodyguards protect the Swedish artist when he travels. His car is regularly swept for bombs, all because of drawings he made in 2007 of the prophet Muhammad depicting him as a dog.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

He believes he was the main target of Saturday's terrorist attack in Copenhagen. A gunman killed one person at a freedom of speech event at a cafe. Vilks was a featured speaker at that event, and Lars Vilks joins us now. Welcome to the program.

LARS VILKS: Thank you. Thank you.

CORNISH: To begin, are you able to tell us where you are now, or are you in hiding?

VILKS: Yes, I am in hiding so it's terribly secret. I can say that I'm somewhere in Sweden but not more than that.

CORNISH: You were actually speaking at this cafe on Saturday when the gunman opened fire. Can you talk about what happened - what you saw?

VILKS: Yeah, I mean, things were going normally, and we had just had the French ambassador talking about the Charlie Hebdo case, and then suddenly - this was a total surprise, of course - we just heard this very strange sound like a bum, bum, bum, bum. And at first it sounds like some sort of firework. The bodyguards took me, and they had found a room backwards where I was taken and put under a table.

CORNISH: After the attack on the French satirical magazine - Charlie Hebdo, did you worry about that - about a copycat attack happening?

VILKS: Not really because there is always expectations, but never really seen an example of that, so this was actually the first time this happened.

CORNISH: What kind of threats have you experienced over the years?

VILKS: I have a very fine and large collection of death threats. But I understood very soon that the death threats you receive are normally not too dangerous. They're just trying to scare you. When things been calm for a very long time, you know, then things aren't getting in the way more dangers because sooner or later there will be something. This death list is very popular among extreme Islamists. So when you're on the list, I mean, they have this interest and can start things up.

CORNISH: You've been the target of violence for cartoons you've created featuring the prophet Muhammad. For those of us who have not seen them, can you describe what those drawings look like?

VILKS: Yeah. But first of all, I have to say I am not a cartoonist. I'm just an artist who's painting and drawing. I made the prophet as a roundabout dog. There was a period of time when people made small dogs at home in different materials and put them in the roundabouts. And all over Sweden, it was filled with these dogs.

CORNISH: And these are in the traffic circles you're talking about.

VILKS: Yes, the traffic circles - yes. It was a kind of comment on the situation you had after the Danish caricatures. And my aim was just directed to challenging the art world because they avoided all kinds of topics concerning Islam. I mean it's incorrect thing.

CORNISH: What kind of conversation - broader conversation do you think this has prompted in your country?

VILKS: Yeah, they are really talking about this now, and it is to find a balance between respect and freedom of speech. I mean, I was in the radio program this morning and there was a Muslim there. And she said that those who actually are very insulted - they are not represents of Muslims. Muslims in general - they do not care about this. They don't like it, but they make no trouble with it.

CORNISH: Lars Vilks, have you ever had any regrets about those drawings?

VILKS: No, I think of this as task of the artist. I mean, you pose questions about our time and our problems. Then you leave this to the audience to make their interpretations and discussions.

CORNISH: Artist Lars Vilks, thank you so much for speaking with us.

VILKS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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