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Iran denies involvement in attack on Sir Salman Rushdie

Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the US (Johnny Green/PA)
Sir Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the US (Johnny Green/PA)

An Iranian government official has denied that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Sir Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country’s first public comments on the stabbing attack.

Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, made the remarks in a briefing to journalists.

“We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US, do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters,” Mr Kanaani said. “Nobody has the right to accuse Iran in this regard.”

Sir Salman Rushdie incident
Sir Salman Rushdie is recovering in hospital (Matt Crossick/PA)

He added: “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”

He also implied that Sir Salman brought the attack on himself.

“Salman Rushdie exposed himself to popular anger and fury through insulting the sacredness of Islam and crossing the red lines of over 1.5 billion Muslims and also red lines of followers of all divine religions,” Mr Kanaani said.

Sir Salman, 75, was stabbed on Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent said. He was likely to lose the injured eye.

His attacker, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the assault through his lawyer.

The award-winning author has faced death threats over his book, The Satanic Verses, for more than 30 years.

Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over 3 million dollars (£2.5m) for the author.

Lebanon Ashoura
Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa in 1989 (Hussein Malla/AP)

Mr Kanaani said that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported”.

The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude”, Mr Kanaani added.

Khomeini, in poor health in the last year of his life after the grinding Iran-Iraq war had decimated the country’s economy, issued the fatwa on Sir Salman in 1989.

The Islamic edict came amid a violent uproar in the Muslim world over the novel, which some viewed as blasphemously making suggestions about the Prophet Muhammad’s life.

While fatwas can be revised or revoked, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who took over after Khomeini — has never done so. As recently as February 2017, Khamenei said: “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued.

Since 1979, Iran has targeted dissidents abroad in attacks. Tensions with the West — particularly the United States — have spiked since then-president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

A Trump-ordered drone strike killed a top Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in 2020, further fuelling those tensions.

Last week, the US charged a Guard member in absentia for allegedly plotting to kill one-time Trump adviser and Iran hawk John Bolton. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo and an aide are under 24-hour security over alleged threats from Iran.

Meanwhile, US prosecutors say that Iran tried to kidnap in 2021 an Iranian opposition activist and writer living in New York. In recent days, a man with an assault rifle was arrested near her home.

Other denials from the Foreign Ministry have included Tehran’s transfer of weapons to Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid that country’s long civil war. Independent experts, Western nations and UN experts have traced weapon components back to Iran.