Iranian newspapers praised Sir Salman Rushdie’s “brave and dutiful” attacker for attempting to carry out the religious edict to kill the author of The Satanic Verses and send him “to Hell”.
Rushdie, 75, was stabbed in the neck and torso while onstage at a lecture in New York state on Friday. The Indian-born British novelist, who spent years in hiding, is in a severe condition.
The leader of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie in 1989 after the publication of The Satanic Verses, which he condemned as blasphemous.
The novel is banned in Iran. A wealthy Iranian religious organisation offered a $2.7 million reward to anyone who carried out the fatwa. It increased the amount to $3.3 million in 2012.
California-born Hadi Matar, 24, the suspect in the stabbing, was reported to be sympathetic to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on social media.
The hardline Kayhan newspaper, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, said: “The hand of the man who tore the neck of God's enemy must be kissed.
“A thousand bravos to the brave and dutiful person who attacked the apostate and evil Salman Rushdie in New York.”
Iran’s state broadcaster welcomed the attack. It said, “It is not yet known what has happened to this heretic, but what is known is that 34 years after they were first issued the Islamic edicts are still valid and applicable.”
Under the headline “Attack on the Satan in 20 Seconds” the Mehr News Agency said: “It does not really matter what is the real identity of Hadi Matar and what his motives are.
“What matters is that those who by the order of the British intelligence services insult the beliefs of hundreds of millions of Muslims must not have a peaceful life, even while they are protected by these services.”
The Asr Iran news site on Saturday carried an often cited quote by the current Supreme leader that said the “arrow” shot by Ayatollah Khomeini “will one day hit the target”.
The headline of the hardline Vatan Emrooz newspaper read: “Knife in Salman Rushdie’s neck.”
The Khorasan daily carried the headline: “Satan on the way to hell”.
Others suggested without evidence that the stabbing may have been designed to derail the Iran nuclear deal.
Iranian officials are currently engaged in crucial last-ditch negotiations with Western governments to revive the 2015 deal to dissuade Tehran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
“I do not believe in conspiracy theories but this incident concurring with finalising of the plan for reviving the nuclear deal is bewildering me,” Abbas Abdi, a local politician told Ensaf News.
Meanwhile, some in the Iranian opposition spoke out against the stabbing.
Cleric Mohsen Kadivar, a dissident reformist who is currently a lecturer at Duke University in the US, told the moderate Ensaf News he strongly condemned “this bloody attack”.
“This act is against the true teachings of Islam and the Quran, and the culprit must be brought to justice and punished. The best way to criticise incorrect ideas must be through dialogue, not murdering people,” he said.
In Tehran, where images of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini still peer down at passers-by, people’s views were mixed.
“I don’t know Salman Rushdie, but I am happy to hear that he was attacked since he insulted Islam," said Reza Amiri, a 27-year-old deliveryman. “This is the fate for anybody who insults sanctities.”
Others, however, worried aloud that Iran could become even more cut off from the world as tensions remain high over its tattered nuclear deal.
“I feel those who did it are trying to isolate Iran,” said Mahshid Barati, a 39-year-old geography teacher. “This will negatively affect relations with many - even Russia and China.”