Dubai, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian official on Monday denied Tehran was involved in the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie, though he tried to justify the attack in the Islamic Republic’s first public comments about the bloodshed.
The comments from Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani came three days after Rushdie was injured in New York state. The writer has been taken off the ventilator and, according to his agent, is ‘on the way to recovery’.
Rushdie, 75, has faced death threats for more than 30 years for his novel “The Satanic Verses,” whose depiction of the prophet Muhammad was considered blasphemous by some Muslims.
In 1989, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa or Islamic edict demanding the death of the author, and while Iran has not targeted Rushdie in recent years, the decree stands.
Also, a semi-official Iranian foundation had paid a bounty of more than $3 million for the author’s murder. It has not commented on the attack.
“With regard to the attack on Salman Rushdie in America, we do not consider anyone to be blamed, blamed or even condemned except (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” Kanaani said.
“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe the insults and support he received were an insult to adherents of all faiths.”
Iran has denied conducting other operations abroad against dissidents in the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, although prosecutors and Western governments have attributed such attacks to Tehran.
Rushdie was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie. Rushdie will probably lose sight of it, Wylie said.
His alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault.
Matar, 24, was born in the US to parents who immigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon, near the Israeli border, according to the village’s mayor.
Matar had lived in New Jersey for the past few years with his mother, who told London’s Daily Mail that her son became moody and more religious after a month-long trip to Lebanon in 2018.
“I expected him to come back motivated, finish school, graduate and get a job. But instead, he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he hadn’t said anything to me or his sisters for months,’ Silvana Fardos said.
Village records in Yaroun show that Matar is a Lebanese citizen and a Shia, an official there said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Matar’s father lives there but has been in seclusion since the attack.
Flags of the Iranian-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah, along with portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders, hang over the village. Israel has bombed nearby Hezbollah positions in the past.
New York police have not given a motive for the attack, although prosecutor Jason Schmidt alluded to the bounty for Rushdie in his plea against bail at a hearing over the weekend.
“Even if this court were to set a million dollar bail, we run the risk that the bail could be met,” Schmidt said.
In his comments on Monday, Kanaani added that Iran “didn’t have any more information than what the US media has reported”. He also suggested that Rushdie had directed the attack on himself.
“Salman Rushdie exposed himself to the wrath and fury of the people by insulting the sanctity of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than 1.5 billion Muslims and also the red lines of followers of all divine religions,” he said. canaani.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while not directly blaming Tehran for the attack on Rushdie, denounced Iran in a statement Monday praising the writer’s support for freedom of speech and religion.
“Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media have recently beamed at the attempt on his life,” Blinken said. “This is despicable.”
State Department spokesman Ned Price spoke to reporters in Washington on Monday and condemned the Iranian government for blaming Rushdie for the attack. “It is despicable. It’s disgusting. We condemn it,” he said.
“We have heard of Iranian officials over the years trying to incite violence, of course with the initial fatwa, but more recently with the gloating that has occurred in the wake of this attack on his life. This is something that is absolutely outrageous.”
While fatwas can be revoked, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took over after Khomeini’s death, has never done so. As late as 2017, Khamenei said, “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued.”
Tensions between Iran and the West, especially the US, have risen since then-President Donald Trump withdrew America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.
A Trump-ordered drone strike killed a top general of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps in 2020, escalating tensions.
Last week, the US accused a member of the Guards in absentia of conspiring to assassinate 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.
US prosecutors also say that in 2021 Iran attempted to kidnap an Iranian activist and opposition writer living in New York. A man with an assault rifle was arrested near her home in recent days.
Associated Press writers Bassem Morue in Beirut and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
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