Belfast, (Northern Ireland): Irish police arrested seven people on Tuesday over an alleged plot to kill a Swedish artist who depicted the Prophet Muhammad with the body of a dog.
Police said four men and three women were detained in morning raids in the counties of Cork and Waterford on Ireland's south coast. Under Irish anti-terrorist law they could be interrogated for up to a week before being charged or released.
Two police officers close to the investigation said those arrested were foreign-born Irish residents, mostly from Yemen and Morocco. The officers said the suspects had been under surveillance since November and were identified based on intelligence intercepts of e-mails and telephone calls monitored with help from anti-terrorist officials in the United States, Interpol and Sweden.
Both officers spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about details of the investigation.
The alleged target of the murder conspiracy, Swedish artist Lars Vilks, told The Associated Press he believed that the Irish arrests are linked to two telephone death threats he received in January over one of his drawings published in a Swedish newspaper in August 2007.
Vilks said in a telephone interview he received those threats shortly after Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard — who also faced extremist Muslim death threats for his 2005 depictions of Muhammad — was threatened when a Somali man wielding an ax broke into his home in Denmark on Jan. 1. Westergaard locked himself in a room and called police, who shot and wounded the attacker.
Vilks said his telephone threats came 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'."
Irish police said the suspects were aged from their mid-20s to their late 40s. They said three men and two women were arrested in Waterford, two others in the Cork City suburb of Ballincollig. Searches on at least nine properties were conducted.
Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.
Westergaard became a target after his 2005 cartoons depicting Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban.
Vilks became a target because of a series of drawings that he had originally made for an art exhibition. The gallery refused to show them, citing security concerns. A Swedish newspaper printed the dog-bodied drawing alongside an editorial defending the freedom of expression.
In response, terror organization Al-Qaida in Iraq announced a $100,000 bounty for Vilks' assassination. He was placed under police protection and moved to a secret location in Sweden.