HELSINKI – Danish cartoonist Kurt Vestergaard, whose image of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb in the form of a turban was at the center of widespread anti-Danish anger in the Muslim world in the mid-2000s, has died. He was 86 years old.
Vestergaard’s family announced his death to Danish media late Sunday and told Berlingske newspaper that Vestergaard died in his sleep after a prolonged illness. Danish media reported that he died on 14 July, a day after his birthday.
From the early 1980s, Vestergaard worked as a cartoonist for Jyllands-Posten, one of Denmark’s leading newspapers, and was associated with the daily until he was 75 years old.
Vestergaard became known worldwide for his controversial portrayal of the Prophet Muhammad in Jyllands-Posten in 2005, which published 12 editorial cartoons of Islam’s leading figure.
Muslims consider the images of the Prophet holy and encouraging idolatry. The images, particularly of Vestergaard, sparked a great wave of anger in the Muslim world and in 2006 turned into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims around the world.
Several newspapers in neighboring Norway also published controversial cartoons. Angry mobs torched the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Syria during the demonstrations.
Political observers in the Nordic countries have described the cartoon incident as one of the most serious foreign policy crises in recent history for both Denmark and Norway.
After the uproar, Vestergaard received several death threats and was forced to turn to police protection.
In 2008, three men were arrested for planning to kill her, and in 2010, a 28-year-old Somali man broke into her home with an ax and knife. The man was later sentenced to 10 years in prison.
“I would like to be remembered as a man who struck a blow for freedom of expression. But no doubt there are some who will remember me as a devil who has killed more than 1 billion people in their religions. was insulted,” Vestergaard said, according to Berlingske.
Jyllands-Posten said in an editorial published on Monday that with Vestergaard’s death “it is more important than ever to emphasize that the struggle for freedom of expression, which became his destiny, is the struggle of all of us for freedom.” ”
Vestergaard is survived by his wife and five children, 10 grandchildren and a great-grandson. Funeral arrangements were not immediately known.