Iran denies links to Salman Rushdie attack

Iran has denied any involvement in last week’s attack on author Salman Rushdie, placing the blame on the author for insulting Muslims.

Nasser Kanaani, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday that the Islamic republic “definitely and seriously” had no links to the suspect.

Kanaani told a press conference: “We have followed this news and heard about it in the media like you [journalists]”. He added, “Nobody deserves to be condemned or blamed other than” Rushdie and his supporters. “He insulted the Islamic sanctities . . . of 1.5bn Muslims.”

Rushdie is in critical condition following the attempt on his life at a literary event in Chautauqua county, New York. More than three decades ago, he sparked anger in the Muslim world for the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed in his book The Satanic Verses. In 1989, Iran’s then supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on the author authorising Muslims to kill Rushdie for his alleged blasphemy.

The Islamic regime cut diplomatic relations with Britain over its support for Rushdie, an Indian-born British national. But in 1998, when reformists took office in Tehran, Iran said it had no intention to send assassins to kill Rushdie. This helped normalise ties between Tehran and London.

The attack comes at a sensitive time for relations between Iran and the west. The EU is mediating between Tehran and the Biden administration to help revive the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by the US under Donald Trump in 2018.

Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said he would respond to the EU’s draft agreement late on Monday and said the foreign ministries of Iran, US, UK, France, Germany and Russia — initial signatories of the deal — could meet soon if Iran’s demands were met. Hardliners in Tehran and hawks in Washington oppose any nuclear agreement.

The attack on Rushdie also came after the US Department of Justice said last week that an Iranian national was behind a plot to assassinate John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, on US soil for $300,000. Bolton had publicly backed regime change in Tehran and the tearing up of the nuclear accord.

“These two incidents come at a time when the nuclear deal’s serious opponents inside and outside the country pursue the same goal of blocking an agreement even if they are not co-ordinated,” said Mohammad-Ali Abtahi, a former reformist vice-president. “Rushdie was a good case [for opponents] to make a deal difficult as Iran cannot oppose the move [the attack] even if it doesn’t take responsibility for it.”

Analysts believe Iran’s diplomats in the government of president Ebrahim Raisi are keen to ink a deal but hardliners have made clear their continued opposition to an agreement.

Many hardliners supported the attack on Rushdie. Although Iran has made a diplomatic commitment not to implement the religious decree to kill Rushdie, some state-affiliated hardline institutions have collected about $4mn as a bounty for anyone who carries out the killing.

Antony Blinken on Sunday denounced Iranian state institutions for inciting violence against Rushdie and “gloating” about the author’s attempted murder. The US secretary of state directly linked the attack to Tehran’s rhetoric.

Hadi Matar, 24, from Fairview, New Jersey, was charged with attempted murder and assault following the attack. Matar is a Lebanese-American national. A previous failed attempt on Rushdie’s life in 1989 was believed to have been planned by a member of Lebanon’s Hizbollah, known as Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh. Hizbollah is Iran’s main proxy force in the Middle East.

“If Iran and the US are once again determined to sign an agreement, such incidents on Rushdie and Bolton cannot derail it,” said a reformist politician. “But it is not clear if the two countries have reached that point or not.”

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