Danish Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard dies aged 86

Danish artist Kurt Westergaard, famed for drawing a caricature the Prophet Mohammed which sparked outrage around the Muslim world, has died at the age of 86, his family told Danish media on Sunday.

Danish Mohammed cartoonist Kurt Westergaard dies aged 86
Kurt Westergaard in 2015. Photo: Henning Bagger/BAG/Ritzau Scanpix

Westergaard passed away in his sleep after a long period of ill health, his family told newspaper Berlingske.

The illustrator was behind 12 drawings published by conservative daily newspaper Jyllands-Posten under the headline “The Face of Mohammed”, one of which sparked particular anger.

The cartoons went almost unnoticed initially, but after two weeks, a demonstration against them was held in Copenhagen, and then ambassadors from Muslim countries in Denmark lodged a protest.

The anger then escalated into anti-Danish violence across the Muslim world in February 2006.

The violence linked to the cartoons culminated in a 2015 massacre that left 12 people dead at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris, which had reprinted the cartoons in 2012.

Westergaard had been working at Jyllands-Posten since the mid-1980s as an illustrator, and according to Berlingske the drawing in question had actually been printed once before but without sparking much controversy.

During the last years of his life Westergaard, like a number of others associated with the cartoons, had to live under police protection at a secret address.

In early 2010, Danish police caught a 28-year-old Somalian armed with a knife in Westergaard’s house, where he was planning to kill him.

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Westergaard’s Charlie Hebdo piece selling fast

A drawing done by Kurt Westergaard, the man behind a Jyllands-Posten cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed that outraged Muslims, is bringing in orders from around the world.

Westergaard's Charlie Hebdo piece selling fast
Westergaard's gallerist's computer couldn't keep up with the inquiries. Photo: Henning Bagger/Scanpix
The drawing Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard dedicated to France's Charlie Hebdo on Friday has been met with overwhelming demand, causing his gallery's computer server to crash.
"It's completely off the charts," said Erik Guldager, who owns the gallery that is selling Kurt Westergaard's cartoon.
Westergaard's caricature of the prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb in his turban was one of 12 cartoons published by Danish daily Jyllands-Posten in 2005.
Westergaard on Friday renamed a 2009 cartoon "Je suis Charlie" and pledged to give proceeds from reprints to the French satirical magazine where gunmen on Wednesday killed 12 people.
Within hours Galleri Draupner in the western Danish town of Skanderborg was inundated with orders from around the world for the 50 euro ($59) reprints.
"He wants to support Charlie Hebdo and their contribution to freedom of speech and their right to do their work," Guldager told AFP.
"People from all of Denmark and Europe, and even distant corners of the world now, have logged on and want to support Charlie Hebdo and Kurt Westergaard's drawing for them," he added.
At last count "hundreds" of reprints had been sold but by early afternoon Guldager was unable to check his emails due to the "huge number of orders coming in," he said.
The 79-year-old artist has lived under police protection since his cartoon was published almost a decade ago, sparking massive protests.
In 2010 an axe and knife-wielding man broke into his home, forcing him to take refuge in a panic room with his five-year-old granddaughter.
The renamed painting featured a man standing on a tightrope above a precipice, holding a pen in one hand and the rope in the other. The rope is tied to a sign that says "Free speech".
Guldager said his gallery has had to "withstand a bit of everything" since agreeing to sell Westergaard's work in 2009, but he declined to go into any details for fear of inspiring violent extremists.
"I have been with Kurt around most of the world in the past six years, and it's probably the closest you will get to James Bond [films] in Denmark," he said.
Westergaard declined to comment, citing health reasons.