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Iran denies involvement in Rushdie attack, says he brought it on himself

Author Salman Rushdie in 2017. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Iran denied any involvement Monday in last week’s attack that left author Salman Rushdie with severe injuries after he was stabbed in the neck and abdomen onstage at an event in western New York.

In its first public reaction to the stabbing, Iran said Rushdie and his supporters were to blame for the attack, more than three decades after Tehran issued a directive for Muslims to kill Rushdie because of his book “The Satanic Verses,” published in 1988.

People rushed to help author Salman Rushdie after he was attacked in New York at the Chautauqua Institution before his scheduled speech on Aug. 12. (Video: Sam Peters)

“We do not blame, or recognize worthy of condemnation, anyone except himself and his supporters,” Nasser Kanaani, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, said of the stabbing, which has been condemned by world leaders and has rocked the literary world.

Kanaani told reporters that through his writing, the Indian-born British American novelist had insulted “the holiness of Islam” and crossed “the red lines of more than 1½ billion Muslims.”

“Many countries and specifically the U.S. talk about the freedom of speech in this regard. Freedom of speech cannot be used as an excuse to justify insulting holy religions,” Kanaani said.

At a briefing Monday afternoon, State Department spokesman Ned Price called Iran’s claims that Rushdie brought the attack on himself “despicable” and “disgusting.”

“It’s no secret that the Iranian regime has been central to the threats to [Rushdie’s] life,” Price said. He said Iran’s threats toward Rushdie have “really amounted to incitement of violence.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday that “it is ludicrous to suggest Rushdie was at all responsible for the attack on him,” Reuters reported.

Who is Salman Rushdie?

After publication of “The Satanic Verses,” which was banned in several countries, Rushdie contended with death threats and spent almost a decade in hiding. But in recent years, he has attended events in public without security guards.

The book, which makes a number of references — some veiled, some not — to Muhammad, Islam and the Quran, was considered blasphemous by some Muslims, including Iran’s late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1989, Khomeini denounced “The Satanic Verses” and issued a fatwa, or religious directive, against Rushdie — calling for his death.

Rushdie’s agent, Andrew Wylie, said Sunday that the novelist has been removed from a ventilator and that, although the process would be lengthy, “the road to recovery has begun.”

Some hard-line media outlets in Iran welcomed news of the attack on Rushdie, striking a triumphant tone.

An article in Kayhan, a newspaper associated with Iran’s hard-line factions, reported the assault Saturday under the headline: “Salman Rushdie, who committed insolence against the prophet of Islam, trapped in divine revenge after 34 years.”

It described a “hellish life” that Rushdie, 75, had been forced to live since Khomeini’s fatwa, saying the author once had to “change his hiding place 15 times in one month.”

The article also appeared to lament that Rushdie had survived. Friday’s stabbing only “partially calms the anger of Muslims after more than three decades,” the paper said.

Salman Rushdie hospitalized after attack onstage in New York

On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced those who advocated for Rushdie’s death and called the stabbing a “heinous attack.”

“Iranian state institutions have incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media recently gloated about the attempt on his life. This is despicable,” Blinken said in a statement.

The British government gradually normalized diplomatic relations with Iran in the 1990s, and the Iranian government distanced itself from the fatwa in 1998, while stopping short of publicly renouncing it.

Hadi Matar, a 24-year-old New Jersey man, was taken into custody by police at the scene of the attack Friday. He was arraigned Saturday and charged with attempted murder and assault.

“We do not have any information about the perpetrator and have been informed about the incident through American media,” Kanaani said Monday.

Karen DeYoung and Ron Charles contributed to this report.

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