Iran has blamed the stabbing of Salman Rushdie on the author and his supporters as it denied ordering the attack, despite the fatwa that has officially remained in place.
“Regarding the attack on Salman Rushdie, we do not consider anyone other than himself and his supporters worthy of reproach and condemnation,” Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said in the first official comments by the regime.
“No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard,” he added a day after allegations surfaced that the suspected attacker had been in direct contact with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The government had remained silent on the attack until yesterday, when the official “absolutely denied” the country’s involvement.
Mr Kanaani said the government had no other information about the stabbing other than what has been reported in the media.
The government official did, however, warn that freedom of speech does not justify the kind of religious insults that were derived from Mr Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the novel that caused Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini to issue a fatwa against him in 1989.
It placed a bounty of several million dollars on his head, and Mr Rushdie has been living under that death sentence ever since.
The novel is interpreted to have fictionalised parts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed, prompting outrage among many Muslims.
For Alan Yentob, the former television executive and a long-time supporter and friend of Mr Rushdie, the attack gave a “timely reminder” of the importance of freedom of expression.
“I know Salman very, very well, I was with him on the day of the fatwa and those years in which he couldn’t live without having those people with him in his home, in his house, 24/7,” Mr Yentob told the BBC yesterday. “I’m hoping that isn’t going to have to happen again but we’ll see.”
In 1998, a more liberal Iranian government said it would no longer support the killing, allowing Mr Rushdie to emerge from hiding, but the fatwa remained in place. In 2012, a wealthy religious organisation increased the offering of the fatwa to $3.3m.
The New York stabbing suspect, Hadi Matar (24), denies attempted murder. Mr Matar, whose family emigrated to the US from southern Lebanon, was carrying a fake driving licence when he was arrested that bore the surname Mughniyah, a likely reference to Imad Mughniyah, a former Hizbollah leader.
Reporters have been prevented from entering Yaroun, the town in which Mr Matar’s family originate.
According to the town’s mayor, the father of the suspect is in Lebanon but is refusing to talk or make a statement. Silvana Fardos, Mr Matar’s mother, reportedly has said her son had travelled to Lebanon in 2018 to visit his father and came back “changed”, “moody” and “introverted”.
A source close to the police investigation has said the suspect is alleged to be “sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes”.