TOKYO, JULY 12 -- The Japanese translator of Salman Rushdie's novel "The Satanic Verses" was found stabbed to death this morning at his university office, nine days after the Italian translator of the controversial book was attacked and wounded in Milan.
Police investigating the crime at Tsukuba University north of Tokyo said the 44-year-old Islamic scholar, Hitoshi Igarashi, had been stabbed at least six times. His briefcase, containing cash worth hundreds of dollars, was lying untouched at his side.
Italian police told the Associated Press that the Italian translator, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed by an Iranian who had previously asked Capriolo for Rushdie's address.
Rushdie, a British novelist, has been in hiding since February 1989, when Iranian spiritual leader ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a death sentence against the author, charging that Rushdie's newly published "The Satanic Verses" blasphemed the Islamic faith. The sentence, or fatwa, was not lifted after Khomeini's death later that year, and several Iranian government officials have spoken out in recent months in support of the decree.
In London today, Rushdie issued a statement that said he was "extremely distressed" by the news of the murder and thought it may be linked to the attack in Milan. "It is hard to avoid linking the two events," the Associated Press reported him as saying. Rushdie also appealed to foreign governments to urge Iran to set aside the fatwa.
Informed sources in London reported last month that Rushdie, who had been trying to emerge from hiding, was returned to deep security cover earlier in the year after a warning from intelligence sources that a new hit squad had been dispatched to Britain to kill him. Last March, a private Islamic foundation with connections to Tehran announced it had doubled the bounty for Rushdie's killing to $2 million.
Japanese police said they did not know the motive for Igarashi's murder, but they called the publisher of the Japanese translation and urged him to move into hiding immediately. The publisher, Italian-born Gianni Palma, said today he had little doubt the murder was the work of Muslims angered by publication of Rushdie's book.
"All I can say is that the professor was probably an easier target than I am," Palma said in an interview. "After all, they have already attacked me here, and I have been taking precautions."
It was not clear whether publishers of the book elsewhere were taking precautions. The American publishers, Viking, could not be reached for comment.
The Japanese version of Rushdie's novel has been controversial among Muslim groups here.
Palma and Igarashi held a press conference in Tokyo in February 1990 to announce their translation of Rushdie's work. Midway through the session, a Pakistani Muslim rushed the stage and tried to assault Palma. The attacker was arrested and has since been deported, Palma said.
The Islamic Center of Japan, representing about 30,000 foreign workers from Muslim countries, urged bookstores here not to carry the translation. Most of the larger stores did suspend sales for a while, but later started selling the volume by request only, with no display on the shelves.
Even with those restrictions, Palma said today, the translation sold about 80,000 copies, which would put the book in the bestseller category here.
Igarashi, who had studied in Iran before the downfall of the shah in 1979, had received threats here after his translation was published last year. At the time, Igarashi said he was paying no attention to protests about the book. "To assert that this book could shame Islam is to belittle Islam," he said.
Igarashi was under police protection for weeks after the translation appeared, but that ended last year. Both Igarashi's publisher and his wife, Masako, said today that he had not reported any threats or contacts about the book in several months.
During the Persian Gulf War earlier this year, Igarashi was frequently interviewed here because of his expertise on the Middle East. He was an outspoken supporter of President Bush's decision to go to war against Iraq, saying the war was "a necessary American response to Iraqi violence."
Japan is a Shinto and Buddhist nation, with no native Muslims. But the Muslim faithful, while still a tiny minority, are a growing presence here because so many workers from Muslim nations have come to this booming labor market.
The number of Iranians working in Japan has grown in the past year as Japanese employers have actively sought workers from abroad. Because Iranians can enter Japan without a visa, they can come here and find a job without worrying about immigration paperwork.
The Iranian community here is well-organized. Large groups of Iranians hold impromptu meetings in public parks each Sunday, and Iranians here act as job-seekers for relatives on their way.
Some press speculation today about Igarashi's murder focused on the Iranians here. But Akita Goto, a specialist at Tokyo University on Mideastern culture, said he doubts there is a connection. "These are not politically minded people; they come for jobs."