“As for the attack on Salman Rushdie, we consider none other than… [Rushdie] and its supporters are worthy of blame and even condemnation,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani said in a televised news conference Monday, marking the country’s first public response to the incident.
“We have not seen anything else about the person who carried out this act, except what we have seen from the US media. We categorically and seriously deny any connection of the attacker to Iran,” Kanaani said, according to Iranian state media.
Rushdie, an acclaimed Indian-born British writer, has faced death threats for decades after Iran issued a fatwa or religious decree calling for his murder following the release of his book “The Satanic Verses” in 1988. Under British protection for nearly a decade before moving to the United States in recent years, he was stabbed repeatedly during an attack on the stage in western New York on Friday.
The suspect, identified as 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, New Jersey, pleaded not guilty Saturday to second-degree attempted murder and other charges.
While Iran has not made any official comment on the attack this weekend, several hardline Iranian newspapers on Saturday praised the suspect, including the conservative Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief has been appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
“A thousand bravos, a hundred God bless. His hand must be kissed… Bravo to the warrior and dutiful man who attacked the renegade and evil Salman Rushdie. The warrior’s hand must be kissed. He tore the vein from Rushdie’s neck”, the newspaper said.
Another hardline newspaper, Khorasan, ran a headline, “The Devil on the Path to Hell,” showing a photo of Rushdie on a stretcher.
Rushdie – the son of a successful Muslim businessman in India – was educated in England, first at Rugby School and later at Cambridge University, where he earned an MA in History.
The publication of “The Satanic Verses” in 1988 made him a household name and brought him fame. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against him a year later.
The bounty against Rushdie was never lifted, but in 1998 the Iranian government tried to distance itself from the fatwa by promising not to implement it.
But in February 2017, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed the religious edict.
And in 2019, Khamenei tweeted that Khomeini’s fatwa against Rushdie was “solid and irrevocable”, prompting Twitter to impose a restriction on his account.
CNN’s Lauren Said-Moorhouse contributed to this report.