TEHRAN — An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, while also blaming him for his own assault, in the country’s first public comments on the attack.
Nasser Kanaani, the spokesman of Iran’s Foreign Ministry, made the remarks in a briefing to journalists.
“We categorically deny” any link with the attack, Kanaani said. “No one has the right to accuse the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
Speaking at his weekly press conference in Tehran, he added: “In this attack, we do not consider anyone other than Salman Rushdie and his supporters worthy of blame and even condemnation.
“By insulting the sacred matters of Islam and crossing the red lines of more than one and a half billion Muslims and all followers of the divine religions, Salman Rushdie has exposed himself to the anger and rage of the people.”
The award-winning author has faced death threats for more than 30 years for “The Satanic Verses.” Iran’s late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.
Kanaani said that Iran did not “have any other information more than what the American media has reported.”
The West “condemning the actions of the attacker and in return glorifying the actions of the insulter to Islamic beliefs is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.
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 said. He 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’s 1998 novel “The Satanic Verses” was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims, who saw a character as an insult to the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. Around the world, often-violent protests erupted against Rushdie, who was born in India to a Muslim family. One riot killed 12 people in his hometown of Mumbai.
Iranian media and hardline supporters of the country’s religious leadership hailed Friday’s attack in New York state on Rushdie.
Following the stabbing, an old quote by Iran’s current supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying the fatwa was “fired like a bullet that won’t rest until it hits its target,” was shared widely on social media.
“This deserves congratulation: God willing, we will celebrate Salman Rushdie going to hell soon,” conservative pundit Keyvan Saedy was quoted as tweeting.
Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan on Saturday hailed the assailant who attacked Rushdie.
“Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York,” wrote the paper, whose chief is appointed by Khamenei.
“Let us kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife,” the daily added.
Others, however, worried the attack — regardless of why it was carried out — could hurt Iran as it tries to negotiate over its nuclear deal with world powers.
“It will make Iran more isolated,” warned former Iranian diplomat Mashallah Sefatzadeh.
A law enforcement official told NBC News that, according to a review of his social media activity, the suspect had sympathies for Shia Muslim extremists and Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. There were no known direct links to the IRGC.