The Cartoonist Behind Controversial Images of the Prophet Muhammad Has Died Aged 86

Kurt Westergaard's cartoons were republished in Charlie Hebdo before the attack on the magazine that killed 12 people.
Dipo Faloyin
London, GB
July 19, 2021, 12:45pm
Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Photo credit should read HENNING BAGGER/AFP via Getty Images
Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard. Photo: HENNING BAGGER/AFP via Getty Images

The Danish cartoonist who sparked anger across the Muslim world for his depictions of the Prophet Muhammad has died aged 86. 

In September 2005, Kurt Westergaard published 12 drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in the conservative newspaper Jyllands-Posten. The most controversial of the drawings showed a bearded man with a bomb under his turban.

All images of the Prophet Muhammad are strictly forbidden in Islam.

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In response, thousands of people marched in protest through the streets of Copenhagen, while Danish embassies in multiple Muslim-majority countries were burned down. Dozens of people were reported to have died during angry riots. 

Westergaard had been living under police protection ever since, living at multiple addresses. In 2010, he described his then home in the east coast city of Aarhus as a “fortress without a moat”.  That fortress had been breached a year earlier when a man broke into his home wielding an axe. Westergaard was saved after locking himself in the bathroom, which had been fortified into a panic room of sorts, while his would-be assailant tried to smash the door down. Danish polish eventually arrived and arrested the intruder. Three men were later arrested in Norway accused of planning to murder Westergaard. 

His cartoons faced renewed international scrutiny in 2012 after they were republished by the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. In January 2015 the Paris offices of the magazine were attacked by two Al-Qaeda affiliated militants who killed 12 people and injured 11. 

In interviews, Westergaard had suggested that he did not regret drawing the depictions. “I would do it the same way again because I think that this cartoon crisis in a way is a catalyst which is intensifying the adaptation of Islam," he told Reuters in 2008." “Without a cartoon that provoked the Muslims, it would have been something else; a novel a play, a movie, this situation would have occurred sooner or later anyway. We are discussing the two cultures, the two religions as never before and that is important.”

For the final few years of his life, Westergaard lived at a secret address. His family say he died following a prolonged illness.