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STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - A Swedish artist threatened with death over his drawing of a dog with the head of Islam's Prophet Mohammad said on Tuesday he drew the picture to spark debate about freedom of expression in the art world.

Showing the original picture at a debate in the Swedish capital, Lars Vilks said he had wanted to test the boundaries of freedom in art.

"It was a project for the art world," Vilks said.

"I noticed that you can't criticize the Muslim world."

Muslim countries including Iran and Pakistan have expressed anger over the drawing, and Sweden's prime minister has met ambassadors from 22 Muslim countries to defuse the row.

Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-styled Islamic State in Iraq, offered up to $150,000 on Saturday for the murder of Vilks.

In an audiotape posted on the Internet, Baghdadi offered a lower bounty for the death of the editor of daily Nerikes Allehanda, which published the drawing last month.

Vilks, who has been told by police he is no longer safe living at home, said the response to his drawing had been much bigger than he had anticipated.

He said the drawing was humorous and that he did not see it as negative.

"You can make jokes about religion, especially if you don't have any unpleasant motives," he said.

Top Swedish firms such as truck maker Volvo, mobile network builder Ericsson and retailer Ikea were also threatened unless an apology was forthcoming for the drawing.

The controversy follows violent protests in the Muslim world last year over the publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons some Muslims felt insulted the Prophet Mohammad. More than 50 people died across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Artist sees prophet cartoons as musical
KLIPPAN, Sweden - He has offended Muslims worldwide and al-Qaida wants him dead, but the Swedish artist who portrayed the Prophet Muhammad as a dog said Monday he has no regrets.

Lars Vilks, 61, told The Associated Press he might use the uproar over his drawings as the subject of a musical, with prominent roles depicting Iran's president, Sweden's prime minister and al-Qaida terrorists.

"The Muhammad cartoon project must be made into an art work," said Vilks, breaking away for an interview during a business seminar in Klippan, a small town in southern Sweden. "A musical comes to mind ... I think it would help the debate."

The eccentric sculptor said previously that the cartoons weren't meant to insult Islam but rather to test the boundaries of artistic freedom.

He purports to be unfazed by death threats over his caricatures, which rekindled the Muslim anger but not the violence that swept the world last year in fiery protests over a Danish newspaper's publication of cartoons of Muhammad.

"Personally I'm not afraid," Vilks said, although he admitted he starts his day by looking for bombs underneath his car. On the advice of Sweden's security police, he now lives in a secret location under police protection.

"I think they are trying to frighten people. That's their aim," he said of the $100,000 bounty placed on his head by al-Qaida in Iraq. "Al-Qaida is far away, but it could be some sort of challenge for the extremists we have here."

Vilks said his drawings were meant to provoke, but only the Swedish art community, which refused to display the cartoons for security reasons. But the project took on a larger dimension Aug. 19 when a Swedish newspaper printed one of the cartoons, showing Muhammad's head on a dog's body in an editorial defending freedom of expression.

Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law is interpreted to forbid any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Swedish Muslim groups and governments of Islamic countries such as Iran and Pakistan condemned the drawings. Vilks said he received death threats through e-mail and phone calls, but added that most of the criticism of his works had been sensible.

"Most Muslims are, of course, just like other people," Vilks said. "They are friendly and nice. Even if they are insulted, they still behave civilized. I'm really the Muslims' friend although they don't like me, and I understand why."

Vilks said Muslims living in the West will have to get used to disrespectful drawings of their religious symbols, "because here in the West we mock everything."

"I think also the Muslims will understand that this is the system we have and it's not really against Muslims, it's just the principle of being able to insult religions," he added.

Vilks is no stranger to controversy. In the 1980s he built a sculpture of driftwood in the Kullaberg nature reserve in southern Sweden without permission, triggering a lengthy legal battle with local authorities.

He was fined but the seaside sculpture still stands, a chaotic jumble of nailed wood called Nimis, or Latin for "too much." It draws some 30,000 visitors a year, the local tourism board says.
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