STOCKHOLM – Three men were charged Tuesday with plotting to stab to death a Swedish artist who has faced numerous threats from Muslim extremists for depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog.
The men, ages 24 to 26 and of Somali and Iraqi origin, were arrested in the city of Goteborg on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
According to the charges, the suspects were planning to use knives to kill Lars Vilks, whose 2007 drawing of Muhammad offended many Muslims and rekindled a debate over free speech and Islam that raged a year earlier when a Danish newspaper printed 12 caricatures of the prophet.
Images of Muhammad, even favorable ones, are considered blasphemous by many Muslims.
The evidence included wiretapped phone conversations between the suspects and a note pad belonging to one of them, prosecutor Agnetha Hilding Qvarnstrom said.
Calls to the suspects' defense lawyers were not immediately returned.
An art gallery celebrating the opening of an exhibition was evacuated in connection with the arrests, and police originally treated the case as a terror investigation. They later relabeled it as a murder plot.
Vilks, 65, had mentioned on his blog that he planned to visit the exhibition, but he did not attend the opening ceremony.
The three men carried knives when they were arrested near the central train station in Goteborg on Sept. 10, the charges said, adding they had scouted the art gallery and one of them had gone inside to ask for Vilks.
The Swedish artist has been at the center of several planned attacks.
A Pennsylvania woman earlier this year pleaded guilty in a plot to try to kill Vilks. Two brothers were convicted in Sweden of trying to burn down his house last year.
Also last year, a suicide bomber who blew himself up in Stockholm referred to Vilks and the presence of Swedish troops in Afghanistan in an audio recording sent to a Swedish news agency before the bombing. No one else died in the attack.
"I have had so many incidents like these now I have become accustomed to it," Vilks told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "But I have a bodyguard now so it is difficult to get to me."
The trial is expected to start later this month. Vilks said he will participate by telephone.