The man who allegedly stabbed author Salman Rushdie has said that he admires Iran’s former supreme leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who issued a call for Rushdie’s death in 1989.
Hadi Matar, the suspected attacker, told the New York Post during a video interview that he respects the former Iranian leader and believes Rushdie attacked Islam through his writing. Iran has denied involvement in the attack but blamed Rushdie for courting controversy.
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“I respect the Ayatollah. I think he’s a great person. That’s as far as I will say about that,” Matar told the Post speaking from the Chautauqua County Jail, where he is being held.
The attack against Rushdie last week which left the author hospitalised, has thrust Iran’s previous threats against him into the spotlight.
The Iranian government had distanced itself from earlier calls for Rushdie’s death, and said it was not linked to Matar in any way, but critics have pointed to recent statements from Iranian officials as evidence that the state’s position has not substantively changed.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani told reporters on Monday that “we consider no one except [Rushdie] and his supporters deserving of blame or even condemnation” for the attack and that the author “exposed himself to public indignation”.
Matar told the Post he had only read a few pages of Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, but said he had seen videos of the author on YouTube. “I don’t like him [Rushdie] very much,” Matar said, according to the paper.
Matar denied any contact with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the paper reported. His lawyer Nathaniel Barone entered a not guilty plea to charges of attempted murder and assault last weekend.
Rushdie had faced death threats for more than 30 years after publishing The Satanic Verses in 1988.
Many Muslims around the world regard the book as blasphemous, and in 1989 Khomeini issued a religious edict calling for Rushdie’s death forcing the author to spend more than a decade in hiding.
Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had said as recently as 2019 that the edict remained in effect.
Ned Price, the US Department of State spokesman, told reporters on Monday that it was “no secret that the Iranian regime has been central to the threats on his [Rushdie’s] life”.
In Iran, some media outlets have praised the attack. The ultraconservative Keyhan – whose chief is appointed by Khamenei – said of Matar “Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man.”
Matar’s family denounced the attack, and his mother distanced herself from him in a brief comment to the New York Times. “I’m done with him,” Silvana Fardos, the suspect’s mother, told the NYT. “I have nothing to say to him.”
According to Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie, the 75-year-old author is “on the road to recovery”, has been taken off of a ventilator and is able to talk. However, after being stabbed about 10 times, Rushdie remains at risk of lifelong injury and could lose one of his eyes.