Iran has blamed the stabbing of Salman Rushdie on the author and his supporters as it denied ordering the killing despite the fatwa that has 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.
A day after allegations that the alleged attacker had been in direct contact with members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the spokesman said: “No one has the right to accuse Iran in this regard.”
Iran’s government had remained silent on the attack until Monday, when Mr Kanaani “absolutely denied” that the country had any involvement in the stabbing, which happened in New York State.
He said the government had no information on the attack other than that reported in the media.
But he said freedom of speech did not justify the kind of religious insults derived from Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the novel that caused Iran’s former supreme leader to issue a fatwa against him in 1989.
The Satanic Verses is widely interpreted to have fictionalised parts of the life of the Prophet Mohammed, sparking outrage among many Muslims.
Alan Yentob, a long-time friend and supporter of Rushdie, said the attack was a “timely reminder” of the importance of freedom of expression and how little it has progressed.
“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,” the former TV executive told the BBC on Monday. “I’m hoping that isn’t going to have to happen again, but we’ll see.”
In 1998, a more liberal Iranian government had said it would no longer support the killing of the author, allowing him to emerge from his safe house, but the fatwa remained in place.
The suspect in the stabbing, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has denied attempted murder. Mr Matar, whose family emigrated to the US from southern Lebanon, was carrying a fake driver’s license when he was arrested which bore the surname “Mughnaiyah”, a likely reference to Imad Mughniyah, a former leading figure in Hizbollah.
Reporters have been turned around when trying to enter Yaroun, the town from which Mr Matar’s family originate.
According to the mayor, the father of the suspect is in Lebanon but has locked himself in his house and is refusing to make a statement.
In an interview with MailOnline, Silvana Fardos, Mr Matar’s mother, reportedly said her son had travelled to Lebanon in 2018 to visit his father and had returned “changed”, “moody” and “introverted”.
A source close to the police investigation told NBC news the suspect is alleged to be “sympathetic to Shia extremism and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps causes”.
Intelligence officials told Vice World News that the alleged attacker had been in contact with “people either directly involved with or adjacent to the Quds Force,” referring to an elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard.
Rushdie, 75, was taken off a ventilator on Saturday, but his son Zafar said he remains in a “critical condition”.
Andrew Wylie, the author’s agent, said on Sunday that “the road to recovery has begun”. He added that it “will be long, the injuries are severe, but his condition is headed in the right direction”.