Iran denies involvement in attack on author Salman Rushdie

An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country's first public comments on the attack.

Rushdie, 75, was stabbed Friday at event in western New York. A 24-year-old man was arrested

'This was seen as an attack against freedom,' says refugee lawyer

4 months ago
Duration 7:22
Ram Joubin, president of the Alliance of Iranian Canadians, speaks to how many Iranian Canadians felt after Friday's near-fatal attack on author Salman Rushdie.

An Iranian government official denied on Monday that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie, in remarks that were the country's first public comments on the attack.

The comments by Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for Iran's Foreign Ministry, were issued three days after the attack on Rushdie in New York state.

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.

"We, in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the U.S., do not consider that anyone deserves blame and accusations except him and his supporters," Kanaani said. "Nobody has right to accuse Iran in this regard."

Rushdie, 75, was attacked Friday as he was about to give a lecture in western New York. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, according to his agent, Andrew Wylie, who said Rushdie is likely to lose the eye. 

The writer has been taken off a ventilator and is "on the road to recovery," Wylie said. 

WATCH | Iran denies involvement in Rushdie attack: 

Iran denies link to attack on Salman Rushdie

4 months ago
Duration 2:03
An Iranian government official has 'categorically' denied that Tehran was involved in the assault on author Salman Rushdie.

Motive for attack unknown

His alleged assailant, Hadi Matar, pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault.

Matar, 24, was born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from Yaroun in southern Lebanon near the Israeli border, according to the village's mayor.

Matar had lived in recent years in New Jersey with his mother, who told London's Daily Mail that her son became moody and more religious after a month-long trip to Lebanon in 2018.

"I was expecting him to come back motivated, to complete school, to get his degree and a job. But instead he locked himself in the basement. He had changed a lot, he didn't say anything to me or his sisters for months," Silvana Fardos said.

Rushdie is tended to after he was attacked late last week at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, N.Y. For more than 30 years, the award-winning author has faced death threats over his novel, The Satanic Verses. (Joshua Goodman/The Associated Press)

Village records in Yaroun show Matar holds Lebanese citizenship and is a Shiite, an official there said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity over security concerns, said Matar's father lives there but has been in seclusion since the attack.

Flags of the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, along with portraits of Hezbollah and Iranian leaders, hang across the village. Israel has bombarded Hezbollah positions near there in the past.

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

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

LISTEN | Canada's UN Ambassador Bob Rae on Rushdie attack: 
We talk to Bob Rae about the implications of Friday’s shocking violent attack on author Salman Rushdie. Rae is Canada's Ambassador to the UN, and also one of Rushdie’s friends. We also listen back to Matt Galloway's conversation with Rushdie, from Aug. 2021.

U.S. condemns Iranian minister's comments

The award-winning author has faced death threats for more than 30 years after the 1988 publication of his novel The Satanic Verses. The novel was viewed as blasphemous by many Muslims.

In 1989, Iran's late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, demanding his death. An Iranian foundation had put up a bounty of over $3 million for the author.

In his remarks Monday, Kanaani said 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.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani says Tehran was not involved in the assault on Rushdie. (Iranian Foreign Ministry/The Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while not directly blaming Tehran for the attack on Rushdie, denounced Iran in a statement Monday praising the writer's support for 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."

State Department spokesperson Ned Price, speaking to reporters in Washington on Monday, condemned the Iranian government for blaming Rushdie for the attack.

"It's despicable. It's disgusting. We condemn it," he said.

"We have heard Iranian officials seek to incite to violence over the years, of course, with the initial fatwa, but even more recently with the gloating that has taken place in the aftermath of this attack on his life. This is something that is absolutely outrageous."