Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard, whose caricature of the Prophet Muhammad outraged Muslims worldwide — culminating in the deadly attack on satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo — has died at age 86.
Westergaard’s family told the Berlingske newspaper that he died in his sleep after a long illness. Danish media reported that he died Wednesday, a day after his birthday.
From the early 1980s, Westergaard worked as a cartoonist for leading Danish daily Jyllands-Posten, and was associated with the paper until he turned 75.
He gained global notoriety in 2005 for his controversial depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in Jyllands-Posten, which published 12 editorial cartoons of the principal figure of Islam under the headline, “The Face of Mohammed.”
Westergaard was behind the most controversial of the cartoons published by the paper, showing the prophet wearing a turban shaped like a bomb, according to the BBC. The cartoon intended to make a point about self-censorship and criticism of Islam.
Muslims consider images of the prophet to be sacrilegious.
The cartoons went almost unnoticed at first, but after two weeks, a demonstration was held in Copenhagen, and then ambassadors from Muslim countries in Denmark launched a protest.
The huge wave of anger in the Muslim world escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims in 2006.
Several newspapers in neighboring Norway also published the controversial cartoons.
Westergaard received several death threats and was forced to have police protection.
In 2008, three people were arrested for planning to kill him, and in 2010 a 28-year-old Somali man broke into his home with an ax and knife. He was later sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
“I would like to be remembered as the one who struck a blow for the freedom of expression. But there’s no doubt that there are some who will instead remember me as a Satan who insulted the religion of over 1 billion people,” Westergaard said, Berlingske reported.
The violence linked to the cartoons culminated in the January 2015 massacre by Islamist militants that left 12 people dead at the Charlie Hebdo satirical weekly in Paris, which had reprinted the cartoons in 2012.
Brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi said they were acting on behalf of Al-Qaeda to avenge the magazine’s decision to publish the cartoons.
In December, more than a dozen people were handed sentences ranging from four years to life after being convicted in a Paris court of helping the gunmen to carry out the deadly on Hebdo and a Jewish grocery.
Jyllands-Posten said in an editorial published Monday that with the death of Westergaard “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.”
Westergaard is survived by his wife and five children, 10 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
With Post wires