Iran denies involvement but justifies Salman Rushdie attack
In this photo released on Thursday, August 11, 2022, by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani speaks in Tehran, Iran. Kanaani denied on Monday, August 15, 2022, that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country's first public comments on the attack. (Iranian Foreign Ministry via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — 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 stabbed Friday while attending an event in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, his agent Andrew Wylie said. Rushdie was likely to lose the injured eye.

His assailant, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the attack through his lawyer.

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. A semiofficial Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author, though it has yet to offer any comment on the attack.

Police in New York have offered no motive yet for the attack, though District Attorney Jason Schmidt alluded to the bounty on Rushdie in arguing against bail during a hearing Saturday.

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.

US 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.”

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