Iran Denies Involvement But Justifies the Attack on Rushdie

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, though he justified the stabbing in remarks that represented the Islamic Republic’s first public comments on the attack.

The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, came more than two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York. The writer has now been taken off a ventilator and is “on the road to recovery,” according to his agent.

However, Iran has denied carrying out other operations abroad targeting dissidents in the years since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite prosecutors and Western governments attributing such attacks back to Tehran. And while Iran hasn’t focused on the writer in recent years, a decades-old fatwa demanding his killing still stands.

“Regarding the attack against Salman Rushdie in America, we don’t consider anyone deserving reproach, blame or even condemnation, except for (Rushdie) himself and his supporters,” Kanaani said.

“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he added. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”

Rushdie (75), was attacked while attending an event at Western New York. Andrew Wylie, his agent, said that Rushdie suffered damage to the liver and had severe nerve damage in one arm and one eye. Rushdie could lose the eye that was injured.

Hadi Matar (24 years old) has pleaded guilty through his lawyer to the charges stemming out of the attack.

Rushdie has for more than 30 years faced death threats for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian semiofficial foundation put up a bounty for Rushdie of more than $3 million, but it has not yet commented on the attack.

New York Police have not yet provided any motive for the attack. However, District Attorney Jason Schmidt made reference to Rushdie’s bounty when he argued against bail at a Saturday hearing.

“Even if this court were to set a million dollars bail, we stand a risk that bail could be met,” Schmidt said.

Matar was born in the United States to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, according to the village’s mayor. In the village, flags from the Iranian-backed Shiite terrorist group Hezbollah hang along with portraits and statements of Hezbollah or Iranian leaders. In the past, Israel has also bombarded Hezbollah posts near them.

In his remarks Monday, Kanaani added that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.” He also implied that Rushdie brought the attack on himself.

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

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while not directly blaming Tehran for the attack on Rushdie, made a point to mention Iran in a statement early Monday praising the writer’s efforts in supporting freedom of expression and religion.

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

New York Governor Kathy Hochul condemned the attack on Rushdie at a lecture Sunday, saying that “a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen.”

Khomeini, in poor health in the last year of his life after the grinding, stalemated 1980s Iran-Iraq war had decimated the country’s economy, issued the fatwa on Rushdie in 1989. The Islamic edict came amid a violent uproar in the Muslim world over the novel, which some viewed as blasphemously making suggestions about the Prophet Muhammad’s life.

While fatwas can be revised or revoked, Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — who took over after Khomeini — has never done so. As recently as February 2017, Khamenei said: “The decree is as Imam Khomeini issued.”

Iran’s attacks on dissidents around the world have been ongoing since 1979. Tensions with the West — particularly the United States — have spiked since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

Trump’s drone strike in 2020 killed the top Iranian Revolutionary Guard General, further fueling tensions.

The U.S. has indicted a Guard member for plotting to murder John Bolton, a former Trump advisor and Iran hawk. An aide and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are now under 24 hour security for alleged Iranian threats.

U.S. authorities claim that Iran attempted to kidnap an Iranian writer and opposition activist living in New York in 2021. Recently, an assault rifle-wielding man was detained near her house.

Other denials from the Foreign Ministry have included Tehran’s transfer of weapons to Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid that country’s long civil war. Experts from independent nations, Western countries and U.N. specialists have all traced weapons components back to Iran.

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