Iran denies involvement but justifies Salman Rushdie’s attack

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – An Iranian official on Monday denied that Tehran was involved in the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie, despite trying to justify the attack in the Islamic Republic’s first public comments on the bloodshed.

The comments from Nasser Kanaani, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, came three days after Rushdie was wounded in New York state. The writer was taken off a ventilator and is “on the mend”. according to his agent.

Rushdie, 75, has faced death threats for more than 30 years because of his novel The Satanic Verses, whose portrayal of the prophet Mohammed was considered blasphemous by some Muslims.

In 1989, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, calling for the author’s death, and while Iran hasn’t focused on Rushdie in recent years, the edict still stands.

Also, a semi-official Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author’s assassination. She did not comment on the attack.

“In relation to the attack on Salman Rushdie in America, we hold no one to blame, blame or even condemnation other than (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” Kanaani said.

“In this regard, nobody can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe the insults and support he received were an insult to followers of all religions.”

Iran has denied conducting any other operations abroad against dissidents in the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, although prosecutors and Western governments have blamed such attacks on Tehran.

Rushdie was attacked on Friday while attempting to give a lecture in western New York. According to his agent Andrew Wylie, he suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in one arm and one eye. Rushdie will likely lose his eye, 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 emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, according to the village’s mayor.

Matar had been living in New Jersey with his mother for the last few years to the London 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. Instead, he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he didn’t say anything to me or his sisters for months,” said Silvana Fardos.

Village records in Yaroun show that Matar has Lebanese citizenship and is Shia, an official there said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said Matar’s father lives there but has retired since the attack.

Flags of the Iran-backed Shia militant group Hezbollah hang above the village along with portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders. Israel has bombed nearby Hezbollah positions in the past.

New York police have not provided a motive for the attack, although District Attorney Jason Schmidt alluded to Rushdie’s bounty argue at a bail hearing over the weekend.

“Even if this court were to set bail at $1 million, we run the risk of bail being honored,” Schmidt said.

In his comments Monday, Kanaani added that Iran had “no information other than what the American media has reported.” He also implied that Rushdie had brought the attack on himself.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who does not blame Tehran directly for the attack on Rushdie, condemned Iran in a statement Monday praising the writer’s support for freedom of expression and religion.

“Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media outlets have recently rejoiced in the attempt on his life,” Blinken said. “That is despicable.”

Speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the Iranian government for blaming Rushdie for the attack. “It’s despicable. It’s disgusting. We condemn that,” he said.

“We have heard that Iranian officials have tried to incite violence over the years, with the initial fatwa of course, but only more recently with the glee that followed this attack on his life. This is something absolutely outrageous.”

While fatwas can be revoked, Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took office after Khomeini’s death, has never done so. As recently as 2017, Khamenei said: “The decree is as issued by Imam Khomeini.”

Tensions between Iran and the West, particularly the US, have increased since then-President Donald Trump pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard general has been killed in a drone strike ordered by Trump in 2020, adding to these tensions.

Last week, the US in absentia accused a member of the Guard of conspiring to kill former Trump adviser and Iran hawk John Bolton. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an aide are under 24-hour surveillance over alleged threats from Iran.

US prosecutors also say Iran tried to kidnap an Iranian opposition activist and writer in 2021 lives in New York. A man with an assault rifle was arrested near her home in recent days.

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Associated Press writers Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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