(JNS) Iranian government officials denied that they were responsible for the brutal stabbing of internationally acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie on Monday, instead laying the blame on him.
“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,” said Nasser Kanaani, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, according to the Associated Press.
“In this regard, no one can blame the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said. “We believe that the insults made and the support he received was an insult against followers of all religions.”
Rushdie, 75, was attacked on Friday by a knife-wielding man as he took the stage to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution—a cultural festival in upstate New York.
Iran was immediately suspected of being responsible for the attack as former Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa (religious edict) against Rushdie for his depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. A $2.8 million bounty was put on Rushdie by Iran’s government at the time; over the years, it was apparently raised to $3.3 million.
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“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,” said Kanaani, claiming that Iran had no additional information about the attack other than what was reported in the media.
Rushdie, who received nearly a dozen knife wounds, was evacuated by helicopter to a nearby trauma center. According to his agent Andrew Wylie, he suffered damage to his liver, severed nerves in an arm and a wound to his eye, which he is likely to lose. He has since been taken off the ventilator and is reportedly “on the road to recovery.”
The alleged assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar of Fairview, N.J., pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault over the weekend. He was ordered to be held without bail.
Matar was born in the United States to a family who emigrated from the city of Yaroun, Lebanon, which sits on the Israeli-Lebanese border and is a stronghold of the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah. Portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders hang throughout Yaroun and reports indicate that Matar holds Lebanese citizenship.
Matar’s mother, with whom he lived, told London’s Daily Mail that he became religious and moody after a month-long trip to Lebanon in 2018.
Authorities investigating the stabbing have not yet released information about the motive.
‘This is despicable’
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised Rushdie in a news release on Sunday as a “literary giant” who “consistently stood up for the universal rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of the press.”
“While law-enforcement officials continue to investigate the attack, I am reminded of the pernicious forces that seek to undermine these rights, including through hate speech and incitement to violence,” Blinken said in the release. “Specifically, 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 stopped short of outwardly accusing the government of Iran for ordering the attack on Rushdie, the same way it has against former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The U.S. Justice Department last week brought charges against a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for attempting to pay $300,000 to someone they suspected as being part of a Mexican cartel to assassinate Bolton in retaliation for the killing of IRGC Quds Force leader Qassem Soleimani by an American drone in January 2020. In 2021, Iran tried to kidnap Iranian opposition activist and writer, Masih Alinejad, in New York, and recently, a man with an assault rifle was arrested near her home, according to AP.
But European and Middle Eastern intelligence officials told VICE World News on Sunday that Matar had been in direct contact with people either directly involved or adjacent to the IRGC Quds Force on social media, but did not reveal who established the contact.
Iran was also blamed for the attempted murder by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose leaders released a statement on the attack on Sunday.
“We are shocked and outraged by the assassination attempt on author Salman Rushdie at New York state’s Chautauqua Institution and condemn in the strongest possible terms Iran’s direct ordering of its followers to murder Rushdie and others opposed to the regime’s criminal behavior,” Conference chair Dianne Lob and CEO William Daroff said in a joint statement.
The statement called Iran the most significant supporter of terrorism in the world and for the issue to be immediately addressed.
“U.S. and world leaders must recognize that Iran cannot be trusted to operate in good faith with the rest of the international community,” they said in the statement. “Continued pressure by international agencies is essential until Iran is ready to rejoin the community of nations and stop its subversive activities, support for terrorism and aggressive behavior.”