Iran says Salman Rushdie and supporters to blame for his attack

Salman Rushdie, who was stabbed repeatedly at a public appearance in New York state, and his supporters are to blame for the attack, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson has said.

Freedom of speech did not justify Rushdie’s insults upon religion in his writing, Nasser Kanaani said in a press briefing on Monday.

Iran has no other information about Rushdie’s alleged assailant except what has appeared in media, he added.

Vice News reported on Sunday that, before his arrest, the suspect Hadi Matar, allegedly had contact at some point with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards, a branch of Iran’s military, citing European and Middle Eastern intelligence sources. The report also said there was no evidence that Iranian officials were involved in organising the attack on Rushdie.

The prize-winning writer spent years under police protection after Iranian leaders called for Rushdie’s killing over his portrayal of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad in his novel The Satanic Verses.

He was about to be interviewed as part of a lecture series on Friday when a man rushed the stage and stabbed him repeatedly.

Rushdie’s “road to recovery has begun” but “will be long”, the novelist’s agent said on Sunday.

“The injuries are severe,” the agent, Andrew Wylie, said in an email to the Guardian, alluding to stab wounds that the author had suffered to his neck, stomach, eye, chest and thigh two days earlier. “But his condition is headed in the right direction.”

Hadi Matar, 24, arrives for an arraignment in the Chautauqua county courthouse on Saturday 13 August.
Hadi Matar, 24, arrives at the Chautauqua county courthouse on Saturday. Photograph: Gene J Puskar/AP

The Indian-born British novelist remained in hospital on Sunday in a critical condition, but had been removed from a ventilator, which had allowed him to talk and demonstrate that “his usual feisty and defiant sense of humour remains intact”, his son Zafar Rushdie said in a separate statement.

Nonetheless, Zafar added that his father’s wounds were “life-changing”.

On Saturday, Hadi Matar pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted murder and assault at a brief court appearance where he was denied bail.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said on Sunday that Iranian state institutions had incited violence against Rushdie for generations, and state-affiliated media had gloated about the attempt on his life.

“This is despicable,” Blinken said in a statement. “The United States and partners will not waver in our determination to stand up to these threats, using every appropriate tool at our disposal.”

The New York governor, Kathy Hochul, spoke at the Chautauqua Institution, where Rushdie was stabbed, condemning the “cowardly attack” and asserting that “a man with a knife cannot silence a man with a pen”.

Rushdie had lived in hiding and under police protection for years after the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put out a fatwa in 1989 calling for his death in retribution for The Satanic Verses. Many Muslims interpreted the author’s book as blasphemous because it included a character they found insulting to the Prophet Muhammad.

Rushdie, 75, was at the Chautauqua Institution to speak about the importance of America giving asylum to exiled writers when he was attacked, and had said recently that he believed his life was “very normal again”.

On Saturday, district attorney Jason Schmidt alleged that Rushdie’s accused attacker had taken steps to purposely put himself in position to harm Rushdie, getting an advance pass to the event where the author was speaking and arriving a day early bearing a fake ID. “This was a targeted, unprovoked, preplanned attack on Mr Rushdie,” Schmidt alleged.

Public defender Nathaniel Barone complained that authorities had taken too long to get Matar in front of a judge while leaving him “hooked up to a bench at the state police barracks”. “He has that constitutional right of presumed innocence,” Barone said.

Rushdie was stabbed repeatedly before his alleged attacker was tackled by spectators, institution staffers and two local law enforcement officers providing security. Meanwhile, a helicopter crew flew Rushdie to a hospital in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania.

“We are so grateful to all the audience members who bravely leapt to his defence and administrated first aid along with the police and doctors who have cared for him,” Zafar Rushdie’s statement added.

Salman Rushdie had 10 knife injuries: three stab wounds to the right front of his neck, another four to his stomach, one each to his right eye and chest and a cut to his right thigh. He suffered a damaged liver and severed nerves in an arm and an eye, Wylie said on Friday evening. He was likely to lose the injured eye.

The attack has been met with shock and outrage from much of the world, along with tributes and praise for the award-winning author who for more than 30 years has faced death threats.