Iran denies involvement in the attack on Salman Rushdie

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

The comments by Nasser Kanaani, spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, come more than two days after the attack on Rushdie in New York.

However, Iran has denied conducting any other operations abroad against dissidents in the years since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, although prosecutors and Western governments have blamed such attacks on Tehran.

“We do not believe in the incident of the attack on Salman Rushdie in the US that anyone deserves blame and accusations other than him and his supporters,” Kanaani said. “Nobody has the right to blame Iran in this regard.”

women reading newspaper.
An Iranian woman reads a newspaper in Tehran February 14, 2000 showing a drawing showing British author Salman Rushdie as a hanged man.
AFP via Getty Images

Rushdie, 75, was stabbed to death 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 would probably lose the injured eye.

His attacker, 24-year-old Hadi Matar, has pleaded not guilty through his attorney.

The award-winning author has faced death threats for The Satanic Verses for more than 30 years. The late Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had issued a fatwa, or Islamic edict, calling for his death. A semi-official Iranian foundation has placed a bounty of over $3 million on the author’s head, although it has not yet commented on the attack.

Kanaani added that Iran “has no information other than what the American media has reported.”

That the West “condemns the acts of the aggressor and in return glorifies the acts of the offender of the Islamic faith is a contradictory attitude,” Kanaani said.

Khomeini, in ill health for the last year of his life after the country’s economy was decimated by the grueling, deadlocked Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, issued the 1989 fatwa on Rushdie Roman, which some considered blasphemous innuendos about life of the Prophet Muhammad.

While fatwas can be revised or revoked, the current Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who came to power after Khomeini, has never done so. As recently as February 2017, Khamenei said: “The decree is as issued by Imam Khomeini.”

Iran with Iranian flag building.
Rushdie was stabbed 15 times during the attack in western New York.
AFP via Getty Images

Since 1979, Iran has targeted dissidents abroad. Tensions with the West — particularly the United States — have been rising since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

A Trump-ordered drone strike killed a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard general in 2020, further stoking those tensions.

Last week, the US indicted a member of the Guard in absentia for allegedly conspiring to assassinate former Trump adviser and Iran hawk John Bolton. Former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an aide are under 24-hour surveillance over alleged threats from Iran.

Meanwhile, US prosecutors say Iran tried to kidnap an Iranian opposition activist and writer living in New York in 2021. A man with an assault rifle was arrested near her home in recent days.

Other State Department denials concerned Tehran’s arms transfer to Yemen’s Houthi rebels amid that country’s long civil war. Independent experts, western states and UN experts have traced weapons components back to Iran. Iran denies involvement in the attack on Salman Rushdie


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